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Editor: Dr. Karl Mannheim 

Advisory Board: Sir HAROLD BUTLER , K.C.M.G., C.B.; Sir ALEXANDER CARR - 
SA UNDERS , M.A., Director of the London School of Economics; Sir FRED CLARKE , 
M*A. (Oxon), Formerly Chairman of the Central Advisory Council for Education; Lord 
LINDSAY of Birker, C.B.E . 



Reflections and Rejoinders 



Professor of Social Studies 
Formerly Professor of Physical Chemisiry 
University of Manchester 



First published 1951 
by Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd. 
68 Carter Lane, London, E.C.4 
Printed in Great Britain 
by J. W. Arrowsmith Ltd., Bristol 


By the same author : 

Contempt of Freedom, Full Employment and Free Trade , 
Science, Faith and Society 


Preface vi 



1. Social Message of Pure Science 3 

2. Scientific Convictions 8 

3. Foundations of Academic Freedom 32 

4. Self-Government of Science 49 

5. Science and Welfare 68 

6. Planned Science 86 


7. Perils of Inconsistency 93 

8. The Span of Central Direction hi 

9. Profits and Polycentricity 138 

10. Manageability of Social Tasks 154 




“It is unfortunate that not until we have unsystematically 
collected observations for a long time to serve as building 
materials, following the guidance of an idea which lies concealed 
in our minds, and indeed only after we have spent much time in 
the technical disposition of these materials, do we first become 
capable of viewing the idea in a clearer light and of outlining it 
architectonically as one whole according to the intentions of 
reason.” Kant, Critique of Pure Reason 

These pieces were written in the course of the last eight 
years. They represent my consistently renewed efforts to 
clarify the position of liberty in response to a number of 
questions raised by our troubled period of history. One aspect 
of liberty after another was reconsidered, as in the course of 
time each in turn revealed its vulnerability. This dialectic 
has covered a fair range of relevant issues and has, I believe, 
evoked some valid answers, proved in battle. I have thought of 
melting down the material and casting it into a mould of a 
comprehensive system, but this seemed premature. It cannot be 
attempted without establishing first a better foundation than we 
possess to-day for the holding of our beliefs. 

But I hope that my collection may supply some elements 
of a future coherent doctrine, since it expresses throughout a 
consistent line of thought. I take more seriously here than was 
done in the past the fiduciary presuppositions of science; 
that is the fact that our discovery and acceptance of scientific 
knowledge is a commitment to certain beliefs which we hold, 
but which others may refuse to share. Freedom in science 
appears then as the Natural Law of a community committed to 
certain beliefs and the same is seen to apply by analogy to other 
kinds of intellectual liberty. On these lines, freedom of thought 
is justified in general to the extent to which we believe in the 
power of thought and recognize our obligation to cultivate the 
things of the mind. Once committed to such beliefs and 
obligations we must uphold freedom, but in doing so freedom 
is not our primary consideration. 



Economic liberty I regard as a social technique suitable, 
and indeed indispensable, for the administration of a particular 
productive technique. While we are deeply committed to this 
technology to-day, other alternatives may one day present 
themselves with strong claims in their favour. 

Freedom of the individual to do as he pleases, so long as he 
respects the other fellow’s right to do likewise, plays only a 
minor part in this theory of freedom. Private individualism is 
no important pillar of public liberty. A free society is not an 
Open Society, but one fully dedicated to a distinctive set of 

There is a link between my insistence on acknowledging the 
fiduciary foundations of science and thought in general, and my 
rejection of the individualistic formula of liberty. This formula 
could be upheld only in the innocence of eighteenth-century 
rationalism, with its ingenuous self-evidences and unshakable 
scientific truths. Modern liberty, which has to stand up to a 
total critique of its fiduciary foundations, will have to be con- 
ceived in more positive terms. Its claims must be closely cir- 
cumscribed and at the same time sharpened for a defence 
against new opponents, incomparably more formidable than 
those against which liberty achieved its first victories in the 
gentler centuries of modem Europe. 

I believe that these comprehensive questions cannot be 
handled with detachment, but that their treatment requires the 
full participation of the writer in the issues which form his 
subject. I have included therefore some addresses delivered on 
controversial occasions. 


The author wishes to thank the editors of the following 
publications for permission to make use in this book of articles, 
or portions of articles, which first appeared in their pages: 

Advancement of Science , Archiv der Staatswissenschaften , 
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists , Economica , Humanitas , The 
Lancet , The Listener , Measure , Memoirs and Proceedings of the 
Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society , The Nineteenth 
Century , The Political Quarterly , The Scientific Monthly . 






( 1945 ) 

Applied science has a clear purpose : it serves our welfare and 
security. But what about pure science? What justification is 
there in scientific studies which have no visible practical use? 
Until fairly recently it used to be commonly assumed that such 
studies served their own purpose, the discovery of knowledge 
for the love of truth. Do we still accept that view? Do we still 
believe that it is proper for a scientist to spend public funds for 
the pursuit of studies such as, say, the proof of Fermat’s theorem 
— or the counting of the number of electrons in the universe : 
studies which, though perhaps not lacking in some remote 
possibility of practical usefulness, are at any rate as unlikely to 
yield a material dividend as any human activity within the 
realms of sanity? No, we do not generally accept the view to- 
day, as we did until the nineteen-thirties, that it is proper for 
science to pursue knowledge for its own sake, regardless of any 
advantage to the welfare of society. Nor is the change due to 
altered circumstances, but it represents a fundamental turn of 
popular opinion, induced by a definite philosophical movement 
of recent times. 

The philosophical movement which has thus called in ques- 
tion the traditional standing of science, has launched its attack 
from two different sides. One line of attack is directed against 
the claim of science to speak in its own right. This is the line 

1 In August 1938 the British Association for the Advancement of 
Science founded a new Division for the Social and International Relations 
of Science, which was largely motivated from the start by the desire to give 
deliberate social guidance to the progress of science. This movement 
gathered considerable momentum throughout the following years, so that 
when the Division met in December 1945 for a discussion on the Planning 
of Science, I expected the meeting to be overwhelmingly in favour of plan- 
ning. My opening address, The Social Message of Pure Science , was written 
with this prospect in mind, but actually the occasion proved a turning point. 
Speakers and audience showed themselves consistently in favour of the 
traditional position of pure science, pursued freely for its own sake. Since 
then the movement for the planning of science has rapidly declined to 
insignificance in Britain. 




of modem materialistic analysis, which denies that the human 
intellect can operate independently on its own grounds and 
holds that the purpose of thought is, at bottom, always practical. 
Science in this view is merely an ideology, the contents of which 
are determined by social needs. The development of science is 
then explained by the successive rise of new practical interests. 
Newton, for example, is represented as discovering gravitation 
in response to rising navigational interests and Maxwell as 
discovering the electromagnetic field stimulated by the need for 
transatlantic communications. Such a philosophy denies that 
pure science has a purpose in itself and wipes out the distinc- 
tion between pure and applied science. Pure science is then 
valued mainly for not being altogether pure — for the fact that 
it may turn out to be useful in the end. 

The other line of attack is based on moral grounds. It insists 
that scientists should turn their eyes to the misery which fills 
the world and think of the relief they could bring to it. It asks 
whether, on looking round, they can find it in their hearts to 
use their gifts for the mere elucidation of some abstruse pro- 
blem — the counting of the electrons in the universe, or the 
solution of Fermat’s theorem. Could they possibly prove so 
selfish . . .? Scientists are morally reproached for pursuing 
science for the mere love of knowledge. 

Thus we can see the position of pure science to-day under 
the crossfire of two attacks based on rather disparate grounds; 
forming a somewhat paradoxical combination — but one that is 
actually typical of the modern mind. A new destructive scepti- 
cism is linked here to a new passionate social conscience; an 
utter disbelief in the spirit of man is coupled with extravagant 
moral demands. We see at work here the form of action which 
has already dealt so many shattering blows to the modern world: 
the chisel of scepticism driven by the hammer of social pas- 

This recalls the wider implications of our problem, revealed 
by the spectacle of Europe. The destruction of our civilization 
over large stretches of the Continent was not due to some acci- 
dental outbursts of Fascist beastliness. The events which, 
starting from the Russian Revolution, have ravaged the 
Continent represent on the contrary a single coherent process: 
one vast general upheaval. Great waves of humanitarian and 


patriotic sentiments were its prime impulses, and it was these 
sentiments which actuated the destruction of Europe. Savagery 
is always there lurking among us; but it can break loose on a 
grand scale only when rebellious moral passions first break up 
the controls of civilization. There are always some potential 
Hitlers and Mussolinis about, but they can gain power only if 
they succeed in perverting moral forces to their own ends. 

We must ask, therefore, why moral forces could be thus 
perverted?; why the great social passions of our time were 
turned into violent and destructive channels? The answer can 
only be that there was no other channel available to them. A 
radical scepticism had destroyed popular belief in the reality 
of justice and reason. It had stamped these ideas as mere super- 
structures; as out-of-date ideologies of a bourgeois age; as mere 
screens for selfish interests hiding behind them; and indeed, as 
sources of confusion and weakness to anyone who would trust 
in them. 

There was no sufficiently strong belief in justice and reason 
left in which to embody social passions. A generation grew up 
full of moral fire and yet despising reason and justice. Believing 
instead in what? — in the forces which were left for them to 
believe in — in Power, Economic Interest, Subconscious Desire. 
These they accepted therefore as the ultimate reality to which 
they could entrust themselves. Here they found a modern, 
acid-proof embodiment for their moral aspirations. Compassion 
was turned into merciless hatred and the desire for brotherhood 
into deadly class- war. Patriotism was turned into Fascist 
beastliness; the more evil, the more patriotic were the people 
who had gone Fascist. 

Mr. Attlee recently described the most urgent need in Europe 
at the present time : “We need”, he said, “a conception of justice 
not as a will of a section, but as something absolute” and a 
leadership “which will lift people up from a mere longing for 
material benefits to a sense of the highest mission of mankind”. 
Mr. Bevin has spoken in a similar fashion when, facing the 
starving masses of Europe, he talked of a “spiritual hunger which 
is even more devastating than physical hunger”. 

But unfortunately, the doctrine which was so effectively 
hammered into our heads by the leading philosophical move- 
ment during the past generation taught precisely this: that 



j ustice is nothing but the will of one section ; and that there can 
be nothing higher than the longing for material benefits — so 
that to talk about higher missions is just foolishness or deceit. 
The most urgent need of the day is to oppose this philosophy 
at every point. To us scientists it falls to attack it in connection 
with science. The most vital service we owe to the world to-day 
is to restore our own scientific ideals which have fallen into 
discredit under the influence of the modern philosophical 
movement. We must reassert that the essence of science is the 
love of knowledge and that the utility of knowledge does not 
concern us primarily. We should demand once more for science 
that public respect and support which is due to it as a pursuit 
of knowledge and of knowledge alone. For we scientists are 
pledged to values more precious than material welfare and to a 
service more urgent than that of material welfare. 

How sharply the spirit of pure scholarship is opposed to the 
claims of totalitarianism has been sufficiently proven on many 
cruel occasions during contemporary history. Universities 
which upheld the purity of their standards under totalitarianism 
invariably had to stand up to harsh pressure and often suffered 
heavy penalties. The whole world recognizes to-day its debt 
to universities in Poland and Norway, in Holland, Belgium and 
France, where such pressure was withstood and such penalties 
endured. These places are witnesses to-day to the convictions 
underlying our European civilization and hold out the hope of 
a genuine European recovery. And where, on the contrary, 
universities have allowed themselves to be cajoled or terrorized 
into compromising their standards, we feel that the very roots 
of our civilization have been marred. In such places our hopes 
for the future burn low. 

The world needs science to-day above all as an example of 
the good life. Spread out over the planet scientists form even 
to-day, though submerged by disaster, the body of a great and 
good society. Even at present scientists of Moscow and Cam- 
bridge, of Bangalore and San Francisco, respect the same 
standards in science; and in the depths of shattered Germany 
and Japan a scientist is still one of ourselves, upholding the 
same code of scientific work. Isolated though we are to-day 
from each other, we still bear the mark of a common intellectual 
heritage and claim succession to the same great forerunners. 


Such is my conception of the relation of science to the com- 
munity in our days. In the great struggle for our civilization 
science occupies a section in the front line. In the movement 
which is undermining the position of pure science I see one 
detachment of the forces assailing our whole civilization. I have 
said that these forces embody some of the most enterprising 
and generous sentiments of our days — but that makes them 
only the more dangerous in my eyes. We shall have to fight in 
this battle some of the best motives of human progress. But we 
cannot afford to be deflected by them. The easy wisdom of the 
modern sceptic, destroying the spiritual guidance of man and 
setting free so much untutored enthusiasm, has cost us too 
dearly already. Whatever scorn be poured upon us by those who 
find our faith in pure science old-fashioned, and whatever con- 
demnation by others who think us selfish, we must persist in 
vindicating the ideals of science. 




There are many jokes about the futility of philosophizing, and 
it is true that science is a much more business-like occupation in 
which every achievement, however modest, may give you 
sound satisfaction. For there your work stands, public, compel- 
ling and permanent; it testifies that for one moment you were 
allowed to make intellectual history. You have disclosed some- 
thing that had never been known before and that — you may 
hope — will henceforth continue to be known as long as the mem- 
ory of our civilization endures. 

Some philosophers of the last century were so much im- 
pressed by this kind of positive achievement, that they decided 
to liquidate philosophy altogether and divide up its subject- 
matter among different sciences. A number of new sciences 
which took man or human affairs as their subject, were formed 
at that time and appeared to serve this purpose. Psychology and 
Sociology were acclaimed as the principal legatees in this shar- 
ing out of the substance of philosophy. 

This philosophy-to-end-all-philosophy may be designated, 
if somewhat loosely, as Positivism. It continued in the nineteenth 
and twentieth centuries the rebellion against the authority of the 
Christian Churches, first started in the days of Montaigne, 
Bacon and Descartes; but it set out not only to liberate reason 
from enslavement by authority, but also to dispose of all tradi- 
tionally guiding ideas, so far as they were not demonstrable by 
science. Thus, in the positivist sense truth became identified 
with scientific truth and the latter tended to be defined — by a 
positivist critique of science — as a mere ordering of experience. 

Justice, morality, custom and law now appear as mere sets 
of conventions, charged with emotional approval, which are the 
1 Expanded from The Nineteenth Century , 1949. 




proper study of sociology. Conscience is identified with the 
fear of breaking socially approved conventions and its investiga- 
tion is assigned to psychology. Aesthetic values are related to an 
equilibrium of opposed impulses in the nervous system of the 
beholder . 1 In the positivist theory, man is a system responding 
regularly to a certain range of stimuli. The prisoner tortured by 
his gaolers in order to extract from him the names of his con- 
federates, and similarly, the gaolers torturing him for this pur- 
pose, are both merely registering adequate responses to their 

Under the guidance of such concepts we are expected to 
become truly detached and objective in our approach to the 
whole world, including our own selves and all the affairs of men. 
Scientific man shall master both his inner conflicts and those of 
his social environment and, set free from metaphysical delusions, 
henceforth refuse to submit to any obligations that cannot be 
demonstrated to lie in his proper interest. 

Such a programme implies, of course, that science itself is 
“positive”, in the sense that it involves no affirmation of personal 
beliefs. Since this is in fact untrue — as it is my purpose to show 
here — it is not surprising that the positivist movement, having 
first exalted science to the seat of universal arbitrament, now 
threatens to overthrow and destroy it. The tension between 
Marxism and science, which has made its appearance in Soviet 
Russia and has become steadily more intense during the past 
fifteen years, is a manifestation of this threat, and a logical 
consequence of the conflict between the aspirations of positiv- 
ism and the true nature of science. 


We shall get our own attitude to science into better perspec- 
tive if we digress for a moment on some kinds of knowledge 
forming no part of science and held to be erroneous by most of 
us. Take sorcery and astrology. I shall assume that these are 
both held to be false by the reader ; but obviously the same does 
not hold for everybody even to-day. Sorcery, for example, is 

1 Only the last item on this list requires supporting evidence, for which 
see I. A. Richards, The Principles of Literary Criticism (1924), pp. 245, 251 
(1930 ed.). 




being practised among primitive people throughout the planet. 
In order to bewitch somebody, the sorcerer gets hold of an 
appurtenance of his victim, such as a lock of hair, a bone he had 
spit out, or any excretion of his, and burns this object, pro- 
nouncing a curse on its owner. This is believed to be effective 
and it is common among primitive communities to ascribe 
the incidence of death invariably to the effects of sorcery. 

Now if we ask, “What is sorcery?”, clearly we cannot say 
that “it is the destruction of human beings by burning a lock 
of their hair, etc.”, for we do not believe that man can be killed 
by such means. We have to say, “There is a belief in sorcery, 
which we do not share and which affirms the possibility of 
killing a man by burning a lock of his hair”. And similarly, we 
cannot define astrology as a method for predicting the course 
of men’s lives by casting their horoscopes, but could only de- 
scribe it as a belief — which we do not share — in the possibility 
of foretelling the future from the stars. 

Naturally, a sorcerer or an astrologer would speak differently. 
The first may state that sorcery is the way of killing a man by 
burning a lock of his hair, or the like ; the second will describe 
astrology as the art of predicting the future from horoscopes. 
However, if pressed by our scepticism, they would be prepared 
no doubt to recast their accounts of sorcery or astrology into a 
statement similar in form to our own definition, but replacing 
the words, “a belief which we do not share”, by the expression, 
“a belief which we share”. And on these grounds we could both 
agree to differ. 

All this has its obvious application to science. Any account 
of science which does not explicitly describe it as something we 
believe in, is essentially incomplete and a false pretension. It 
amounts to a claim that science is essentially different from and 
superior to all human beliefs which are not scientific statements, 
and this is untrue. 

To show the falsity of this pretension, it should suffice to 
recall that originality is the mainspring of scientific discovery. 
Originality in science is the gift of a lonely belief in a line of 
experiments or of speculations, which at the time no one else 
considered to be profitable. Scientists spend all their time bet- 
ting their lives, bit by bit, on one personal belief after the other. 
The moment discovery is claimed, the lonely belief now made 



public and the evidence produced in its favour, evoke a response 
among scientists which is another belief, a public belief, that 
can range over all grades of acceptance or rejection. Whether 
any particular discovery is recognized and developed further, 
or discouraged and perhaps even smothered at birth, will 
depend on the kind of belief or disbelief which it evokes among 
scientific opinion. 

Take for example the fanciful suggestion described a little 
later (p. 16) of connecting the period of gestation of animals 
with the multiples of the number 7 r. Its unhesitant rejection by 
science represents a comparatively recent point of view in 
science. To a scientist like Kepler there would have been 
nothing repugnant in the relationship suggested here. He 
himself derived the existence of the then known seven planets 
and the relative size of their orbits from the existence of seven 
perfect solids and the relative sizes of their inscribed and en- 
veloping spheres, the edges of the solids being of constant length. 
The science of his generation was still largely pursuing the 
Pythagorean supposition of a world governed by number rules 
and geometrical relationships. The terms in which science 
interpreted nature at that time are no longer believed in to-day. 

It would take me too long to trace here in detail the succes- 
sive stages through which the premises of science have passed 
from Kepler’s day to our own. The main period from Galileo 
to Young, Fresnel and Faraday was dominated by the idea of a 
mechanical universe consisting of matter in motion. This was 
modified by the field theories of Faraday and Maxwell, but not 
radically changed as long as the postulate of a material ether 
was upheld. Until the end of the nineteenth century, scientists 
believed implicitly in the mechanical explanation of all phe- 
nomena. In the jlast fifty years these premises of science were 
abandoned, but not without causing considerable delay in the 
progress of discoveries which were inaccessible from such 
premises. A good deal of evidence for the existence of the elec- 
tron had been available for a long time before it overcame the 
resistance offered by the assumption that all properties of matter 
had to be explained by mass in motion. 

An entirely new supposition, based on Mach’s philosophy, 
was imported into science by Einstein in his discovery of 
relativity. Mach had set out to eliminate all tautologies from 



scientific statements; Einstein assumed that by modifying our 
conceptions of space and time on the lines of such a programme, 
it should be possible to draw up a system which would eliminate 
some existing anomalies and possibly lead to new verifiable 
conclusions. This is the epistemological method which is pro- 
foundly ingrained to-day in our conception of the universe. 

The. firmness of our belief in the new epistemologically 
sifted conception of space and time may be illustrated by the 
following event. In 1925 the American physicist D. C. Milner 
repeated, for the first time after a generation, Michelson’s 
experiment on which the theory of relativity was originally 
based. Equipped with the most modern instruments, he thought 
he had a right to check up on these rather hoary observations of 
a great master. His results contradicted those of Michelson and 
he announced this to a representative gathering of physicists. 
But not one of them thought for a moment of abandoning 
relativity. Instead — as Sir Charles Darwin once described it — 
they sent Milner home to get his results right. 

The day-to-day function exercised by scientific beliefs in 
regulating the response made by scientists to current publica- 
tions, may be further illustrated by a pair of instances which 
provide an interesting comparison. In 1947 two papers came out 
almost simultaneously by two authoritative physicists in Britain, 
the reception of which by scientific opinion formed a striking 
contrast. One paper was published in the Proceedings of the 
Royal Society in June 1947, by Lord Rayleigh, a distinguished 
Fellow of the Society. It described some simple experiments 
which proved in the author’s opinion that a hydrogen atom 
impinging on a metal wire could transmit to it energies ranging 
up to a hundred electron-volts. Such an observation, if correct, 
would be of immense importance. Far more revolutionary, for 
example, than the discovery of atomic fission by Otto Hahn in 
1939. Yet when this paper appeared and I asked various physi- 
cists’ opinions about it, they only shrugged their shoulders. 
They could not find fault with the experiment, yet not one 
believed in its results, nor thought it even worth while to repeat 
it. They just ignored it. Since Lord Rayleigh has since died, 
the matter seems to have been already forgotten. 

About simultaneously with Lord Rayleigh’s paper (May 
1947), Professor P. M. S. Blackett published the fact that a 


simple relationship between angular momentum and stellar 
magnetism was applicable to the Earth, the Sun and a third 
star, the data for which lie over a wide range of values. This 
communication, though meagre as compared with Rayleigh's 
and not of obvious significance, was received as an important 
discovery. Its reception was indeed quite exceptional. The 
original address was published by Nature in full length im- 
mediately after its delivery to the Royal Society and the daily 
press brought long extracts of it with facsimiles of Blackett's 
proposed formula in his own handwriting. No greater attention 
could be concentrated on a new contribution to science. 

I feel sure that thirty years earlier the reaction would have 
been exactly the reverse. Before the discovery of general rela- 
tivity, the kind of relationship suggested by Blackett would have 
been shrugged aside as just one more curious numerical coinci- 
dence, of which there were so many; while Lord Rayleigh’s 
observations would have been acclaimed at their face value, 
since they were not strictly incompatible with the theories cur- 
rent at the time regarding the nature of atomic processes. 

We can see here the vital function exercised by current beliefs 
as to the nature of things with respect to the course of scientific 
development. It may well turn out that scientific opinion has 
misplaced its beliefs in one, or even in both, of the instances I 
have given. Yet this would be no reason for refusing to exercise 
such fiduciary decisions, since without them science could not 
operate at all. 

This has to be borne in mind when we see scientific opinion 
committing serious errors in suppressing new discoveries, a 
memorable example of which is offered by the history of hypno- 
tism. The process called to-day “hypnosis" seems to have been 
known among non-scientific people from the earliest days. The 
potency of curses among primitive tribes may be due to 
hypnosis. The practices of Hindu fakirs are other examples of 
it and many magical performances, as well as some reputed 
Christian miracles, can now be explained in terms of it. 

However, our fundamental beliefs of science first arose in 
direct opposition to beliefs in sorcery and miracles, and the 
ancient facts of hypnotism therefore found no place in the new 
scientific outlook. They were ignored, along with the innumer- 
able superstitions which science had come to supersede. When 


the facts were once more brought to light by various scientists 
about two centuries ago, their observations were quietly 
ignored by science. Then towards the end of the eighteenth 
century the matter was brought to a head by the public 
demonstrations of one Friedrich Anton Mesmer, a Viennese 
medical practitioner, whose hypnotic cures had spread his fame 
all over Europe. Scientific commissions repeatedly investigated 
the facts produced by Mesmer and either denied them or ex- 
plained them away. Finally, Mesmer was broken, his art dis- 
credited and he himself stigmatized as an imposter. A generation 
later another pioneer of hypnotism, Elliotson, a professor of 
medicine at the University of London, was ordered by the 
university authorities to discontinue his hypnotic experiments ; 
whereupon he resigned his chair. At about the same time, 
Esdaile, a surgeon in the service of the Government of India, 
performed as many as 300 major operations under hypnotic 
anaesthesia, but medical journals refused to publish his account 
of these cases. His patients, who had uncomplainingly suffered 
their limbs to be cut off, were charged with collusion. In Eng- 
land, in 1842, W. S. Ward amputated a thigh with the patient 
under mesmeric trance and reported the case to the Royal 
Medical and Chirurgical Society. The evidence indicated that 
the patient had felt no pain during the operation. The Society, 
however, refused to believe. Marshall Hall (the pioneer in the 
study of reflex action) urged that the patient must have been 
an imposter and the note of the paper having been read 
was struck from the minutes of the Society. Eight years later, 
Marshall Hall informed the Society that the patient had 
confessed to an imposture, but that the source of this informa- 
tion was indirect and confidential. The patient, however, 
thereupon signed a declaration that the operation had been 
painless. 1 

The conflict was passionate and violent. Braid, a medical 
practitioner of Manchester, who took up the matter shortly 
before Esdaile, was listened to with somewhat lessened hostility, 
for he started off by attacking the followers of Mesmer and 
attempting to explain away the process of suggestion. But even 

1 This account of Ward’s case is given by E. G. Boring, History of 
Experimental Psychology , (1929), p. 120. I have relied on that work also for 
other parts of the history of Mesmerism. 



Braid’s work (which finally did establish the reality of sugges- 
tion) was neglected and ignored for another twenty years after 
his death. It was not until Charcot took up hypnosis at the 
Salpetrifcre in Paris, almost a century after Mesmer’s acclama- 
tion by the lay public, that hypnotism gained full acceptance 
among scientists. 

The hatred against the discoverers of a phenomenon which 
threatened to undo the cherished beliefs of science was as bitter 
and inexorable as that of the religious persecutors two centuries 
before. It was, in fact, of the same character. 

A contemporary parallel to the disregard of the facts of 
hypnotism by science would seem to be the present attitude of 
science to Extra-sensory Perception. I am not concerned here 
with the question whether this attitude is right or wrong, as I 
am not sure of it myself. I only want to show here what I mean 
by scientific beliefs, the holding and applying of which is essen- 
tial to the pursuit of scientific inquiry. 


People who accept the findings of science do not usually 
regard this as a personal act of faith. They think that they 
are submitting to evidence which by its nature compels their 
assent and which has the power to compel a similar measure of 
assent from any rational human being. For modern science is the 
outcome of a rebellion against all authority. Descartes led the 
way by his programme of universal doubt : de omnibus dubitan- 
dum. The Royal Society was founded with the motto: Nullius 
in verba, W e accept no authority. Bacon had claimed that science 
was to be based on purely empirical methods, and Hypotheses 
non jingo, No speculations! echoed Newton. Science has been 
through the centuries the scourge of all creeds which embodied 
an act of faith and was supposed — and is commonly still sup- 
posed — to be built, in contrast to these creeds, on a foundation 
of hard facts, and on facts alone. 

Yet it is quite easy to see that this is not true, as David Hume 
first pointed out some 200 years ago. The argument can be 
stated without any verbal ambiguities in simple mathematical 
terms. Suppose the evidence on which a scientific proposition 
is to be based consists of a number of measurements made at 



various observed times or in coincidence with some other mea- 
surable parameter. Let us in other words have pairs of two 
measured variables, v x and v 2 . Can we decide from a series of 
points v 1 plotted against v 2 whether there is a function v x = f(v 2 ) 
and if so, what it is? Clearly, we can do nothing of the kind. 
Any set of pairs of v x and v 2 values is compatible with an infinite 
number of functional relations between which there is nothing 
to choose from the point of view of the underlying data. To 
choose any of the infinite possible functions and give it the 
distinction of a scientific proposition is so far without any 
justification. The measured data are insufficient for the con- 
struction of a definite function v x ~/(^ 2 ) in exactly the same 
sense as two elements of a triangle are insufficient to determine 
a definite triangle. 

This conclusion is not altered but only obscured by intro- 
ducing the element of scientific prediction. For one thing, 
prediction is not a regular attribute of scientific propositions. 
Kepler's laws and the Darwinian theory predicted nothing. At 
any rate, successful prediction does not fundamentally change 
the status of a scientific proposition. It only adds a number of 
observations, the predicted observations, to our series of mea- 
surements and cannot change the fact that any series of measure- 
ments is incapable of defining a function between the measured 
variables . 1 

Since some readers may be reluctant to accept this, I shall 
illustrate it a little further. Suppose a player of roulette observes 
the number of colours that have turned up in a hundred con- 
secutive throws. He may plot them in a graph and derive a 
function in the light of which he will make a prediction. He 
may try it out and win. He may try it again and win; and win 
a third time. Would that prove this generalization? No, it would 
only prove that some roulette players are very lucky — i.e. we 
could consider these predictions to be mere coincidences. 

A few years ago there appeared in Nature 2 a table of figures 
proving with great accuracy that the time of gestation, measured 
in days, of a number of different animals ranging from rabbits 
to cows is a multiple of the number it . I have reprinted the table 

1 This argument was first stated in my Science , Faith and Society , 
(1946), P- 7 - t 

* Nature, X 01. 146, (1940), p. 620. 


here to show how striking is the agreement. Yet an exact rela- 
tionship of this kind makes no impression on the modern 
scientist and no amount of further confirmatory evidence would 
convince him that there is any relation between the period of 
gestation of animals and multiples of the number it. 

Average Gestation Period and n 7 t. 


n 7 T 

Average gestation 
period (days) 

No. of 



31 416 

3 1 ’ 4 1 


English Rabbit 


JI 3 °97 

113 -I dz 0*12 





150-8 ± 0-13 


Karakul Sheep 

150-8 ±0-19 


Black Forest 



IS 3-938 



Saanen Goat 







Anyone who has friends among astrologers can get from 
them instances of strikingly fulfilled predictions, which would 
be hard to rival in science. Yet scientists refuse even to consider 
the merits of astrological predictions. 

In science itself I could tell of predictions which were most 
strikingly verified and yet were based on premises which later 
were found to be quite erroneous. Such was the case of the 
discovery of heavy hydrogen. There is no rational criterion by 
which the accidental fulfilment of a prediction can be dis- 
criminated from its true confirmation. 

Those who are convinced that science can be based exclu- 
sively on data of experience, have tried to avoid the weight of 
such critical analysis by reducing the claims of science to a more 
moderate level. They point out that scientific propositions do 
not claim to be true, but only to be likely; that they do not 
predict anything with certainty, but only with probability ; that 
they are provisional and make no claim to finality. 

All this is entirely beside the point. If anyone claims that 
given two angles he can construct the triangle, his claim is 
equally nonsensical whether he claims to give a true construction 
or merely a probable construction, or the construction of a 



merely probable triangle. The selection of one element out of 
an infinite set of elements all of which satisfy the conditions set 
by the problems, remains equally unjustifiable whatever positive 
quality we attach to our selection. Its value is exactly nought. 
In fact, scientists would object just as much to serial rules in 
games of chance or astrological predictions, or to relations be- 
tween times of gestation of animals and the number ir, whether 
these are claimed with certainty, or only with probability, or 
else merely provisionally. They would be regarded as no less 
nonsensical for that. 

Nor does another attempt to lessen the burden of responsi- 
bility on the scientists’ shoulders prove more successful. 
Science, it is said, does not claim to discover the truth but only 
to give a description or summary of observational data. But why 
then object to astrology or the description of periods of preg- 
nancy in multiples of the number tt? Obviously, because these are 
not held to be true or rational descriptions ; which brings the pro- 
blem back exactly to where it was before. For it is no easier to 
find a justification for picking out one description of the observa- 
tional data as true or as rational, than it is to pick out any other 
relationship, whatever its claims may be. 

Again, the attempt has been made to lessen the difficulty of 
justifying the claims of science by suggesting that the state- 
ments of science do not claim to be true, except in the sense of 
being simple. But scientists do not reject astrology, magic or 
the cosmogony of the Bible because these are not simple enough. 
That has nothing to do with it. Unless indeed the word “simple” 
is tortured into meaning “rational”, and finally made to coincide 
With “true”. 

Whichever way we turn we cannot avoid being faced with 
the fact that the validity of scientific statements is not compel- 
lingly inherent in the evidence to which they refer. Those who 
believe in science must admit, therefore, that they are placing 
on the evidence of their senses an interpretation for which they 
must themselves take a distinct measure of responsibility. In 
accepting science as a whole and in subscribing to any particular 
statement of science, they are relying to a certain extent on 
personal convictions of their own. 




The positivist may admit that scientific interpretations in- 
clude a fiduciary element, but will insist that even so there 
exists a core of hard facts or incontestable primary sensations, 
which any theory will have to accept as such. 

However, it is very difficult to discover any such primary 
sensations which are given previous to our interpretation of 
them . 1 A child presented with a number of objects on a tray 
will notice only those with which it has some previous famili- 
arity. The Fuegians, whom Charles Darwin visited from the 
Beagle , were excited by the sight of the small boats which took 
the landing party ashore, but failed to notice the ship itself, 
lying at anchor in front of them . 2 Our eyeballs are full of small 
floating opaque bodies which we do not normally notice, but 
which fill us with alarm when some eye trouble calls our atten- 
tion to them. There is a blind spot in our field of vision which 
can obliterate a man’s head at six feet distance, but seems to 
have gone unnoticed throughout recorded history until com- 
paratively recent times. To say that we have sensations which 
we do not notice seems hardly acceptable. But the moment we 
notice a thing, say by sight, we perceive it as something. We 
usually perceive it as being at some distance and as forming 
part of something else or standing out against other things as 
its background. Implicit in these perceptions will be the object’s 
size and its being at rest or in motion. The perceived colour of 
an object will largely depend on our interpretation of it. A 
dinner jacket in sunshine is seen as black and snow at dusk is 
seen as white, though the white snow sends less light into the 
eye than the black dinner jacket. Such facts as these leave little 
scope for sensations as primarily given data. They show that 
even at the most elementary stages of cognition, we are already 
committing ourselves to an act of interpretation. 

There is always a measure of choice in our manner of per- 
ception, and whenever we see something in one way we cannot 
see it at the same time in a different way. A black spot on a 

1 “A pure sensation is an abstraction” says William James in The 
Principles of Psychology, Vol II, p. 3. This view has since been powerfully 
developed by Gestalt psychology. My examples illustrating organized 
perception are mostly taken from the writings of this school. 

a William James, The Principles of Psychology, (1891), Vol. II, p. no. 



white background may be seen either as a blot or as a hole, but 
the eye must choose between the two ways of seeing it. We may 
see a passing train at rest and feel ourselves moving, or the 
reverse, but we must choose between the two forms of percep- 
tion. An attack on our senses may well compel our attention. 
But if it does, it will also compel perception and we shall com- 
mit ourselves to some way of receiving the impression and not 
know it in any other form. 

These observations have general significance. When you 
adopt one way of looking at things you destroy at the same 
moment some alternative way of seeing them. This is the reason 
why open controversy is deliberately used as a method of dis- 
covering the truth. In a courtroom, for example, counsels for 
the prosecution and for the defence are each required to take 
one side of the question at issue. It is supposed that only by 
committing themselves in opposite directions can they discover 
all that can be found in favour of each side. If, instead, the 
judge would enter into friendly consultation with counsel for 
both sides and seek to establish agreement between them, this 
would be considered a gross miscarriage of justice. 

But it is not often realized that even in the scientific handling 
of inanimate systems different approaches are possible, which 
are mutually exclusive. The laws of nature very often make 
definite predictions. For example Boyle's law, pv = const., is 
such a prediction of the changes of pressure accompanying the 
expansion or compression of a gas. Whether or not any parti- 
cular gas under observation shall be judged to fulfil or falsify 
this prediction may still require to be decided ; but even so the 
theoretical prediction would be definite. Take, on the other 
hand, a radioactive atom which is prone to disintegration and 
of which we know the probable lifetime. Suppose this probable 
lifetime were an hour. It is quite easy to imagine an apparatus 
by which we could observe the decomposition of such a single 
atom and — to avoid irrelevant side issues — we may imagine 
also that this atom is the only one of its kind in the world. Its 
probable life-period would clearly predict something about the 
atom's behaviour, but nothing so definite as pv — const. In 
accepting it to be true that the probable life-period is an hour 
we commit ourselves to an expectation, but if it is not fulfilled — 
if the atom decomposes after five seconds or keeps us waiting 



for a week — we can only say that we are surprised; for our 
affirmation was only of the likelihood of an event and did not 
exclude the possibility that the unlikely would happen. 

The two kinds of expectations which I have just described 
may be entertained in respect to the same situation, but they 
are mutually exclusive. We can say that the chance of throwing 
a double six with two dice is 1:36; but we could not say this, 
nor anything about the chances of such a throw, if we knew 
exactly the mechanical conditions prevailing at the moment of 
the throw. We could predict from these the result of the throw 
— but the conception of chances would have vanished and would 
remain inconceivable for a system known in such detail. Thus 
a more detailed knowledge may completely destroy a pattern 
which can be envisaged only from a point of view excluding 
such knowledge. 

Something very similar applies to a machine, the detailed 
observation of which may be wholly irrelevant and therefore 
misleading. What matters to the understanding of an object as 
a machine is exclusively the principle of its operation. The 
knowledge of such a principle, as defined for example by a 
patent, will leave the physical particulars of the machine widely 
indeterminate. The principle of the lever, for example, can be 
employed in such an infinite variety of forms, that hardly any 
physical characteristic could apply to all of them. It represents 
a logical category, which is in danger of being obscured by a 
detailed description of an object to which it applies. 

Again, there are inanimate objects which function as signs : 
for example, marks on paper forming the letter “a”. These 
marks, taken as a sign, must not be observed but read . Observa- 
tion of a sign as an object destroys its significance as a sign. If 
you repeat the word “travel” twenty times in succession you 
become fully aware of the motion of your tongue and the sounds 
involved in saying “travel”, but you dissolve the meaning of the 
word “travel”. 

Martin Buber and J. H. Oldham have brought out the funda- 
mental difference between treating a person as a person or as an 
object. In the former relation we encounter the person, in the 
latter we do not see it as a person at all. Love is a manner of 
encounter. We may love the same person as a child, as a man or 
woman and finally in old age; we may continue to love that 



person after his or her death. Any attempt to fix our relation to a 
person by the observation of his features or his behaviour is 
bound to jeopardize therefore our encounter with his person. 
A man or woman, regarded in their purely physical aspects, may 
be the object of desire but cannot be truly loved. Their person 
has been destroyed. 

The most important pair of mutually exclusive approaches 
to the same situation is formed by the alternative interpretations 
of human affairs in terms of causes and reasons. You can try 
to represent human actions completely in terms of their natural 
causes. This is in fact the programme of positivism to which I 
have referred before. If you carry this out and regard the 
actions of men, including the expression of their convictions, 
wholly as a set of responses to a given set of stimuli, then you 
obliterate any grounds on which the justification of those actions 
or convictions could be given or disputed. You can interpret, 
for example, this essay in terms of the causes which have deter- 
mined my action of writing it down or you may ask for my 
reasons for saying what I say. But the two approaches — in terms 
of causes and reasons — mutually exclude each other. 


Positivism has made us regard human beliefs as arbitrary 
personal manifestations, which must be discarded if we are to 
achieve a proper scientific detachment; belief must be rehabili- 
tated from this discredit if it is to form henceforth a recognized 
part of our scientific convictions. 

Scientific beliefs are not a personal concern. Even though a 
belief were held by one person alone, as may have been the case 
for Columbus’s belief in a western approach to the Indies 
when he first conceived it, that does not make it an individual 
preference — like the love of one’s wife and children. The beliefs 
of scientists concerning the nature of things are held with a 
claim to universal validity and thus possess normative character. 
I would describe science, therefore, as a normative belief, 
which I share ; just as astrology is a normative belief which I 
reject — but which is accepted by astrologers. 

Turning now to the contention that beliefs are arbitrary, I 
shall have to enlarge somewhat on the holding of beliefs in 


general. Whoever embraces a belief, accepts a commitment. 
Commitments are regularly entered upon not only by people 
who believe something, but by almost any living being, and 
particularly by all animals engaged in purposive (goal-seeking) 
action. A floating amoeba will emit pseudopods in all directions, 
until its nucleus is left bare of protoplasm at the centre. When 
one of the pseudopods touches solid ground, all the others are 
drawn in and the whole mass of protoplasm is sent flowing 
towards the new point of anchorage. Such is the amoeba’s mode 
of locomotion. We have here the prototype of a phenomenon 
which is repeated in a million variants throughout the animal 
kingdom. There is co-ordination between the simultaneous 
movements of the animal’s limbs and also between movements 
following upon each other in time. We may characterize such 
co-ordinated sequences by the fact that any part of the sequence 
is meaningless by itself, while each makes sense in conjunction 
with the other parts. Each can be understood only as part of a 
stratagem for the achievement of a result which, we have reason 
to believe, gives satisfaction to the animal, e.g. getting food or 
escaping from danger. The more roundabout are the methods 
employed in achieving a purpose, the more sagacious will 
appear their co-ordination and the more clearly will we recognize 
in them a sustained striving for that purpose. 

To say that an action is purposive is to admit that it may 
miscarry. If it is the purpose of animals to survive until they 
have reproduced themselves, then surely the vast majority of 
purposive actions do miscarry ; for only a small fraction of each 
generation of animals lives to beget young. In any case, no 
animal engaging in a purposive action can be certain that the 
efforts it is about to make will bear fruit. Nor can there be any 
certainty that an alternative course of action might not have had 
a greater chance of success. All purposive action therefore com- 
mits its agent to certain risks. Purposive forms of behaviour are 
a string of irrevocable and uncertain commitments. 

Commitments of this kind might be said to express a belief ; 
where there is purposive striving, there is belief in success. 
Certainly no one can be said truly to believe in anything unless 
he is prepared to commit himself on the strength of his belief. 
We conclude that the holding of a belief is a commitment of 
which human beings are capable, and which bears close analogy 



to the commitment in which animals universally and quite 
inevitably engage when embarking on a purposive course of 

Let us now return to scientific beliefs. When we say that 
an affirmation of a scientist is true or false, we usually have no 
need to refer explicitly to our fundamental scientific beliefs. 
We may turn our backs on them and take them for granted as the 
unconscious foundation of our judgment. But when some major 
question is at stake (like hypnotism, telepathy, etc.), our beliefs 
do become visibly active participants in the controversy, and 
we find it then more appropriate to say, for example, “I cannot 
believe this to be true”. Such a belief may turn out to be true 
or false, as the case may be, but the affirmation of the belief 
falls into neither of these categories. The affirmation of a belief 
can only be said to be either sincere or insincere. Sincere beliefs 
are those to which we are committed, and a fiduciary commit- 
ment is therefore by definition sincere. Our commitments may 
turn out to have been rash. But it is in the nature of a belief 
that at the moment of its being held it cannot be fully justified, 
since it is inherent in all commitments that at the time we engage 
upon them their outcome is still uncertain. 

Therefore, the only grounds on which the sincere holding 
of a belief or the entering on any other kind of commitment can 
be criticized, is for not having sufficiently taken into considera- 
tion its possible rashness. But we must remember that any 
postponement of judgment for the sake of its reconsideration is 
itself a commitment. To go on hesitating for the sake of making 
more certain of one’s decision may be the most disastrous, and 
indeed the most irresponsible, course to choose. So that when 
a belief is both sincerely and responsibly held — that is, in 
conscientious awareness of its own conceivable fallibility — 
there is an affirmation present which cannot be criticized on any 
grounds whatsoever. It is a form of being, the justification of 
which cannot be meaningfully questioned. 

Such a situation is, of course, subject to revision, and the 
present moment’s belief can be rejected or modified by the next 
moment’s reflection, but this reflection, and its result, will be 
again an ultimate commitment, which so far cannot have yet 
become the object of reflection or criticism. Commitment 
must have duration. Any attempt to accompany it simultaneously 



by reflection is logically self-contradictory, and, if persisted 
in, results in the disintegration of our person. If we cannot 
lose ourselves at all, but feel compelled to observe ourselves in 
all we do, we become disembodied in the manner which Sartre 
has penetratingly described. People who cannot rid themselves 
of the feeling that they are “play-acting” become incapable of 
holding convictions. The result is not a superior degree of 
detachment, but an impotent nihilism. 

Detachment in the rigorous sense of the word can only be 
achieved in a state of complete imbecility well below the normal 
animal’s level . 1 In all states of mind above that, we are inevitably 
committed, and usually we are committed to an approach which 
excludes other approaches. The descriptive scientific approach 
as conceived by positivism is inadequate even for the handling 
of inanimate systems in which we have to assess chances or 
understand machines, or read signs ; and when applied to per- 
sons (human or animal) and their actions, it dissolves them both 
as persons and as rational beings. This approach, far from 
representing a state of absolute detachment, is in fact a commit- 
ment to a set of specific, and as it happens, extremely unreason- 
able pre-suppositions, to which no one would conceivably com- 
mit himself but for the fact that they are taken to provide the 
one completely detached, objective approach to the world. 

Detachment in the ordinary and true sense always means 
commitment to a particular approach which we deem to be 
proper to the occasion and disengagement from other points 
of view which for the time being are inadmissable. To hold the 
balance between our alternative possible approaches is our 
ultimate commitment, the most fundamental of all. 


The beliefs which men hold are mostly imparted to them by 
their early education. Some we acquire later through profes- 
sional training and through the wide variety of educative influ- 
ences which infiltrate our minds from the press, from works of 

1 I am thinking here of the dementia of de-cerebrated dogs (Goltz), 
decorticated rats (Lashley, Brain Mechanism and Intelligence , p. 138), and of 
the pure reflex behaviour of incomplete lower organisms, such as Planaria 
described by Kepner. {Animals Looking into the Future , (1925), p. 176). In 
such cases we observe incoherent behaviour, sustaining no purpose. 

z 6 


fiction and through other innumerable contacts. These beliefs 
form far-reaching systems, and though each of us is directly 
affected only by one limited part of them, we are committed by 
implication to the whole pattern of which this is a part. 

The transmission of beliefs in society is mostly not by 
precept, but by example. To take science: there is no textbook 
which would even attempt to teach how to make discoveries, 
nor even what evidence should be accepted in science as sub- 
stantiating a claim to discovery. The whole practice of research 
and verification is transmitted by example and its standards 
are upheld by a continuous interplay of criticism within the 
scientific community. No one who has experienced the woeful 
unreliability of scientific output coming from places where 
scientific standards have not been firmly established by tradition, 
or who has felt the difficulty of doing good scientific work within 
such a milieu , will fail to appreciate the communal character 
of the premises on which modern scientific work is based. 1 

Scientists are, of course, never unanimous on all questions. 
There may even be clashes from time to time about the general 
nature of things and the fundamental methods of science (as 
in the case of hypnotism, telepathy, etc.). Yet the consensus of 
scientific beliefs has not been seriously endangered during the 
past 300 years, until the attempt by Soviet Russia to secede from 
the international community of science and establish a new 
scientific community, based on markedly different beliefs. Up 
to then, there had always been between scientists in all parts of 
the world, and between each generation and the next, sufficient 
consensus of fundamental beliefs to assure the settlement of all 

The scientific community is held together and all its affairs 
are peacefully managed through its joint acceptance of the same 
fundamental scientific beliefs. These beliefs, therefore, may be 
said to form the constitution of the scientific community and to 
embody its ultimate sovereign general will. The freedom of 
science consists in the right to pursue the exploration of these 
beliefs and to uphold under their guidance the standards of the 
scientific community. For this purpose a measure of self- 
government is required, by virtue of which scientists will main- 
tain a framework of institutions, granting independent positions 
1 This subject is worked out in detail below, p. 56. 



to mature scientists; the candidates for these posts being selected 
under the direction of scientific opinion. Such is the autonomy 
of science in the West, which logically flows from the nature of 
the basic purpose and the fundamental beliefs, to which the 
community of scientists is dedicated here. 

The Marxist conception of science is different from that of 
the West, and its application in Russia has already led to serious 
changes in the position of science there and to a breach, at 
various points, between the scientific opinions of East and West. 
The most far-reaching action in this direction was the official 
and sweeping repudiation of Mendel’s laws, and of the whole 
conception of biology related to these laws, by the Soviet 
Academy on the 26th August, 1948. 

There was much indignant protest in Britain against this 
decision of the Soviet Academy and even more against the 
pressure exercised by the Soviet Government, to which the 
Russian Academy had yielded in taking this action. I subscribe 
to these protests, but I wish their proper theoretical foundation 
were more clearly realized. If you protest in the name of freedom 
in general, it is embarrassing to admit that hitherto it was the 
Anti-Mendelists and the whole school of Michurin and Lysenko, 
whose publications were excluded from all the leading scientific 
journals of Soviet Russia and whose teachings were unrepre- 
sented in Russian university curricula; as they of course continue 
to be in the West. Marxians were quite right in pointing out that 
there always exist accepted views on certain general issues 
which are imposed by scientific opinion on scientific journals, 
textbooks and academic curricula, and from which candidates 
for scientific posts will dissent at great peril to their future 
chances. They were right also in recalling that the views thus 
imposed were sometimes found later to be untrue and the 
dissenters vindicated. 

We must admit that the existing body of science — or at 
any rate its fundamental beliefs — is an orthodoxy in the West. 
Millions are spent annually on the cultivation and dissemination 
of science by the public authorities, who could not give a penny 
for the advancement of astrology or sorcery. In other words, 
our civilization is deeply committed to certain beliefs about the 
nature of things ; beliefs which are different, for example, from 
those to which the early Egyptian or the Aztec civilizations were 



committed. It is for the cultivation of these particular beliefs — 
and these alone — that a certain group of people has been granted 
a measure of independence and official support in the West. 

This is what we call academic freedom. Replace science as 
wc know it, by some other study we do not believe in and we 
cease to protest against political interference with its pursuit. 
Suppose, for example, that Lysenko and his supporters were 
given a clean thirty years to transform biology, physics and 
chemistry in the image of dialectical materialism throughout 
the universities of the U.S.S.R. ; and that subsequently, by 
some miracle, Marxism were abandoned by the Government of 
the Soviet Union. We would certainly not uphold the academic 
liberties of the then occupants of scientific positions against an 
Anti-Lysenko acting as Lysenko does to-day, but this time for 
the re-establishment of our conception of science. We may 
demand a measure of freedom for almost any nonsense in a free 
country, but that is not what we mean by academic freedom. 

Those who engage with Marxists in discussion about the free- 
dom of science must face up to this situation. The Marxists are 
quite near the truth in saying that in demanding freedom we 
merely seek to establish our own orthodoxy. The only valid 
objection to this is that our fundamental beliefs are not just 
an orthodoxy; they are true beliefs which we are prepared to 
uphold. This true vision also happens to open greater scope for 
freedom than other, false visions; that is so, but in any case, 
our commitment to what we believe to be true comes first. 

More generally, the freedom of science cannot be defended 
to-day on the basis of a positivist conception of science, which 
involves a positivist programme for the ordering of society. 
The true fulfilment of such a programme is the destruction of 
the free society and the establishment of totalitarianism. 

For a complete causal interpretation of man and human 
affairs disintegrates all rational grounds on which man can hold 
convictions and act on these convictions. It leaves you with a 
picture of human affairs construed in terms of appetites, checked 
only by fear. All you have to explain then in order to under- 
stand history, and with it politics, law, science, music, etc., is 
why at certain moments the appetite of one group gets the upper 
hand over its rivals. You have various options at this point; 
Marx and Engels decided to answer the question in terms of 



class war. They affirmed that the class which, by taking control 
of the means of production can make best use of them for the 
production of wealth, will prevail. The victory of the rising class 
is inevitable, though it can be achieved only by violence ; for no 
ruling class can agree to its own annihilation. This theory was 
put forward as a scientific proposition : as the discovery of the 
“laws of motion’’ governing society. And indeed some concep- 
tion of this kind does inevitably follow from a consistent applica- 
tion of the positivist programme to the affairs of man. 

According to the positivist theory of society, no human 
judgment — be it in politics, law or art, or any other field of 
human thought, including science itself — can be said to be 
valid except in the sense that it serves the interests of a certain 
power. In the Marxist version this is the power of the rising 
class, and to-day in particular the power of the vanguard of the 
rising class, as embodied in the Soviet Government. That is 
the theory of science facing us in Russia to-day. Here the 
positivist movement, which had set out to establish the reign of 
science over all human thought, is culminating in the overthrow 
of science itself. 

The free society — of which a free scientific community 
naturally forms part — can be defended only by expressly 
recognizing the characteristic beliefs which are held in common 
by such a society and professing that these beliefs are true. 
The principal belief — or I should rather say the main truth — 
underlying a free society, is that man is amenable to reason and 
susceptible to the claims of his conscience. By reason are meant 
here such things as the ordinary practice of objectivity in estab- 
lishing facts and of fairness in passing judgment in individual 
cases. The citizens of a free society believe that by such methods 
they will be able to resolve jointly — to the sufficient satisfaction 
of all — whatever dissension may exist among them to-day or 
may arise in the future. They see an inexhaustible scope for the 
better adjustment of social institutions and are resolved to 
achieve this peacefully, by agreement. 

Just as on a smaller scale the scientific community organizes, 
disciplines and defends the cultivation of certain beliefs held by 
its members, so the free society as a whole is sustained for the 
practice and by the practice of certain wider, but still quite 
distinctive, beliefs. The ideal of a free society is in the first place 


3 ° 

to be a good society; a body of men who respect truth, desire 
justice and love their fellows . 1 It is only because these aspira- 
tions coincide with the claims of our own conscience, that the 
institutions which secure their pursuit are recognized by us as 
the safeguards of our freedom. It is misleading to describe a 
society thus constituted, which is an instrument of our con- 
sciences, as established for the sake of our individual selves ; for 
it protects our conscience from our own greed, ambition, etc., 
as much as it protects it against corruption by others. Morally, 
men live by what they sacrifice to their conscience ; therefore 
the citizen of a free society, much of whose moral life is organized 
through his civic contacts, largely depends on society for his 
moral existence. His social responsibilities give him occasion to 
a moral life from which men not living in freedom are debarred. 
That is why the free society is a true end in itself, which may 
rightly demand the services of its members in upholding its 
institutions and defending them. 

The fiduciary formulation and acceptance of science fits in 
with our fiduciary conception of the free society. Scientific 
beliefs are a part of the beliefs cultivated in such a society and 
accepted by its members. That is their valid defence against 
Marxism. But we must realize that this defence accepts a posi- 
tion for knowledge in society which in many ways recalls that 
assigned to it by Marxism. It implies that the free society up- 
holds an orthodoxy which excludes certain suppositions that 
are widely current to-day. Any representation of man and of the 
affairs of man, which, if consistently upheld, would destroy the 
constitutive beliefs of a free society must be denied by this 
orthodoxy. A behaviourism which denies the very existence of 
the moral sphere for the sake of which the free society is consti- 
tuted, or a psychology which discredits as mere secondary 
rationalization the purposes which a free society regards as its 
mainsprings, will be rejected by this orthodoxy. 

1 Note added in December 1949: Churchill has often said that affection 
between Englishmen is the safeguard of their freedom. A recent instance was 
his reply in Parliament to Mr. Attlee’s birthday greetings (1. 12.49). These, 
he said, brought home to him “how far more great are all those sentiments 
which united us than are the still quite important matters which are so often 
the occasion of debate in this house and out of doors”. Compare the pre- 
carious hold of free institutions in Germany, owing to lack of friendly 
sentiments among political opponents ; as manifested — also quite recently — 
by the leader of the Opposition accusing the German Chancellor of serving 
the Allies. 



The free society would cease to exist if its members ever 
admitted that some major conflict will have to be settled by sheer 
force within the society. Such an admission would therefore be 
subversive of the free society and constitute an act of disloyalty 
to it. Nor should members of a free society ever admit that 
experience can disprove that moral forces operate in history, 
any more than a scientist will admit that experience can dis- 
prove the scientific conception of the nature of things. They 
should persist, on the contrary, in searching history for the 
manifestation of a sense of justice, and try to discover in every 
reconciliation and pacification the fruits of human confidence, 
responding to confidence. 

Science or scholarship can never be more than an affirma- 
tion of the things we believe in. These beliefs will, by their very 
nature, be of a normative character, claiming universal validity; 
they must also be responsible beliefs, held in due consideration 
of evidence and of the fallibility of all beliefs; but eventually 
they are ultimate commitments, issued under the seal of our 
personal judgment. To all further critical scruples we must at 
some point finally reply: “For I believe so”. 

We are living in the midst of a period requiring great 
readjustments. One of these is to learn once more to hold beliefs, 
our own beliefs. The task is formidable, for we have been taught 
for centuries to hold as a belief only the residue which no doubt 
can conceivably assail. There is no such residue left to-day, and 
that is why the ability to believe with open eyes must once more 
be systematically re-acquired. 




The analysis of the grounds on which freedom rests is of great 
practical interest to those who value freedom. For by clarify- 
ing these grounds we may hope to make them more secure. By 
raising questions concerning the nature and justification of 
freedom, we may try to eliminate some of its ambiguities which 
have, particularly in our days, laid freedom open to misunder- 
standing, and worse, to perversion and discredit. 

Freedom is ambiguous for there are different ways of being 
free. One way is to be free from external constraint. The rational 
limits to this freedom are set by the condition that it must not 
interfere with other people’s right to the same freedom. I have, 
for example, freedom to choose between going to sleep or 
listening to the wireless, so long as my listening does not inter- 
fere with my neighbour’s choice between the same two alterna- 
tives. This is the approach to freedom which the great utilitarians 
have impressed on our age. It is linked to the idea that the basic 
pursuit of a good society is the greatest happiness of its greatest 
number and that freedom is a condition of this pursuit. This 
individualist or self-assertive conception of freedom can, un- 
fortunately, be used to justify all kinds of objectionable behaviour. 
At some time or other it has been invoked in protection of the 
worst forms of exploitation, including even the keeping of 
slaves. It has served as the ground for the Romantic Movement 
in its exaltation of the unique, lawless individual and of nations 
striving for greatness at any price. Its fundamental opposition 
to all restraint can easily be turned into nihilism. 

Another conception of freedom is in its extreme form almost 
the opposite of the first. It regards freedom as liberation from 

1 The Lancet , 1947. 
3 * 



personal ends by submission to impersonal obligations. Its 
prototype is Luther facing the hostile Assembly at Worms with 
the words, “Hier stehe ich und kann nicht anders”. Such sur- 
render to moral compulsion is certainly a form of liberation. 
But the theory of such freedom can become very much like a 
theory of totalitarianism. It does become altogether totalitarian 
if you regard the State as the supreme guardian of the public 
good; for it then follows that the individual is made free by 
surrendering completely to the State. 

These discrepancies in the conception of freedom are a real 
danger to it. For even without considering the extremes either 
of nihilism or totalitarianism, we may well feel that the indivi- 
dualist theory of freedom is selfish or at least uninspiring, while 
the theory of freedom by self-surrender does not seem to accord 
with our sympathy for the individual pursuing his own happi- 
ness in his own personal manner. 

It seems to me that the study of academic freedom may well 
serve as a guide in this dilemma. For in the foundations of 
academic freedom we shall find the two rival aspects of liberty 
so firmly interwoven that their essential relationship and true 
balance become easily apparent. 


The study of academic freedom has at any rate the great 
advantage that it is fairly easy to say in this case what we mean 
by freedom. Academic freedom consists in the right to choose 
one’s own problem for investigation, to conduct research free 
from any outside control, and to teach one’s subject in the light 
of one’s own opinions. 

At first sight this kind of freedom may seem to raise diffi- 
culties for both of the two great theories of freedom. For 
clearly, the scholar is not given freedom primarily in order to 
promote his happiness ; but neither is he meant merely to fulfil 
an obligation. While these are both true functions of freedom, 
some principle seems yet missing which should join the two 
together — a stereoscope is wanted to unite these two images of 
freedom. We shall find this by observing yet a third function of 
it which has hitherto been given little notice in the major philo- 
sophic discussions on freedom. 



The existing practice of scientific life embodies the claim 
that freedom is an efficient form of organization. The oppor- 
tunity granted to mature scientists to choose and pursue their 
own problems is supposed to result in the best utilization of the 
joint efforts of all scientists in a common task. In other words : 
if the scientists of the world are viewed as a team setting out to 
explore the existing openings for discovery, it is assumed that 
their efforts will be efficiently co-ordinated if only each is left 
to follow his own inclinations. It is claimed in fact that there is 
no other efficient way of organizing the team, and that any 
attempt to co-ordinate their efforts by directives of a superior 
authority would inevitably destroy the effectiveness of their co- 

Now this, in a way, is surprising. For usually one thinks of 
co-ordination as a process imposing restraint on the discretion- 
ary powers of individuals. Let us try to analyse therefore how 
it can be true that the opposite holds in science ; optimum co- 
ordination being achieved here by releasing individual impulses. 

The usual thing is, of course, that when a number of persons 
apply themselves independently to parts of the same task, their 
efforts remain essentially unco-ordinated. A party of women 
shelling peas represents no co-ordinated effort, for their total 
achievement is simply the sum of their individual outputs. 
Similarly, a team of chess players is essentially unco-ordinated; 
for each plays his opponent according to his own lights and the 
performance of the team is simply the sum of the games indepen- 
dently won by each member. 

By contrast we can see the distinctive character of science 
coming into view; it is not conducted by isolated efforts like 
those of the chess players or shellers of peas and could make no 
progress that way. If one day all communications were cut 
between scientists, that day science would practically come to a 
standstill. Discoveries might continue to be made during the first 
few years of such a regime at about the normal rate, but their 
flow would soon dry up and henceforth progress would become 
fitful and sporadic, and the continued systematic growth of 
science would cease entirely. The co-ordinative principle of 
science thus stands out in all its simple and obvious nature. It 
consists in the adjustment of each scientist’s activities to the 
results hitherto achieved by others. In adjusting himself to the 



others each scientist acts independently, yet by virtue of these 
several adjustments scientists keep extending together with a 
maximum efficiency the achievements of science as a whole. At 
each step a scientist will select from the results obtained by 
others those elements which he can use best for his own task 
and will thus make the best possible contribution to science; 
opening thereby the field for other scientists to make their 
optimum contribution in their turn — and so on indefinitely. 

We are faced here — it would seem — with a basic principle, 
leading quite generally to co-ordination of individual activities 
without the intervention of any co-ordinating authority. It is 
a simple principle of logic which can be demonstrated by quite 
trivial examples. Suppose, for example, we had to piece together 
a very large jigsaw puzzle which it would take one person several 
days or even weeks to complete. And imagine that the matter 
were really urgent, the discovery of some important secret being 
dependent on the solution. We would no doubt engage a team 
of helpers ; but how would we organize them? There would be 
no purpose in farming out a number of sets of the puzzle (which 
could be duplicated photographically) to several isolated col- 
laborators and then adding up their results after a specified 
period. Though this method would allow the enlistment of an 
indefinite number of helpers, it would bear no appreciable 
results. The only way to get the job finished quickly would be 
to get as many helpers as could conveniently work at one and the 
same set and let them loose on it, each to follow his own initia- 
tive. Each helper would then watch the situation as it was affected 
by the progress made by all the others and would set himself 
new problems in accordance with the latest outline of the com- 
pleted part of the puzzle. The tasks undertaken by each would 
closely dovetail into those performed by the others. And con- 
sequently the joint efforts of all would form a closely organized 
whole, even though each helper would follow entirely his own 
independent judgment. 

Moreover, it is obvious what would happen if someone 
believing in the paramount effectiveness of central direction, 
were to intervene and try to improve matters by applying the 
methods of central administration. It is impossible to plan in 
advance the steps by which a jigsaw puzzle is to be put together. 
All that a centralized administration could achieve, therefore, 



would be to form all helpers into a hierarchical body and direct 
their activities henceforth from one centre. Each would then 
have to wait for directions from his superior and all would have 
to wait until a decision is taken at the supreme level. In effect, 
all participants except the one acting as the head of the organiza- 
tion would cease to make any appreciable contribution to the 
piecing together of the puzzle. The effect of co-operation would 
fall to zero. 

We can thus see confirmed here the twofold claim that on 
the one hand the actions of individuals acting according to their 
own judgment may become spontaneously — and yet efficiently 
— co-ordinated to a joint task, while on the other hand subor- 
dination of the individual efforts to a central authority would 
destroy their co-ordination. Moreover, we can see clearly adum- 
brated the applicability of this logic to the self-co-ordination of 
scientists in the pursuit of discovery. For this logic seems to 
consist simply in the extension of an unknown pattern by indivi- 
dual steps, under the twofold condition that each suggested new 
step can be readily judged as to its correctness or otherwise, 
and that each new step is rapidly brought to the notice of all 
participants and taken into account by them when they make 
their own next move. 


Is this then all that can be said about the curious claim that 
the avenues of potential discovery are most effectively explored 
if we let scientists choose their own problems? Is it as simple as 

In a way it is. The logical basis for the spontaneous co- 
ordination of scientists in the pursuit of science is as simple as, 
and in fact identical with, that which operates the self-co- 
ordination of a team engaged in piecing together a jigsaw 
puzzle. But there is something profoundly different, and also 
highly significant, in the way in which the elements of the same 
logical machinery are provided in either case. For the pieces of 
a jigsaw puzzle are bought in a shop with the certainty that they 
will yield a solution known to the manufacturer. But there is no 
similar assurance given to us by the Creator of our Universe 
that we shall find an intelligible ground-plan of it by continuing 
to piece together the elements of our experience. 



It is not even clear in what sense science — or scholarship in 
general, to which all these considerations also apply — can be 
said to have any comprehensive task at all. The search for a 
“ground-plan” of the Universe can only be meant in a vague 
and fluid sense. Pythagoras and even Kepler were seeking a 
ground-plan in terms of numerical and geometrical rules, 
Galileo and Newton sought it in terms of mechanism, to-day 
we are seeking it once more in terms of mathematical harmonies, 
but other than the number rules of Pythagoras. In the field of 
general scholarship even more radical changes continue to 
occur in the purpose of inquiry. Compare the moral interpreta- 
tion of history by a Lord Acton or a Toynbee with the way 
history is interpreted by Marxists like Laski and G. D. H. Cole, 
or by psychoanalysts like Franz Alexander or Jung. Moreover, 
while in the case of the jigsaw puzzle a new piece either fits into 
a particular gap or fails to fit into it in the most obvious fashion, 
in science this is not so. Some new discoveries may click 
immediately into an indisputable position, but other claims, 
often more important, remain uncertain for a number of years. 
To every step of scientific progress there is attached an element 
of uncertainty regarding its scope and scientific value. 

It is unmistakable that the logic of self-co-ordination is 
based in the case of science, and of scholarship in general, on 
elements which are much vaguer than those present in the case 
of a jigsaw puzzle. In science and scholarship the uncertainty 
of the final task and the dubitability of each single step are 
indeed such that this may well call in question the whole 
analogy which we have hitherto pursued. 

Yet in my view this is only to be taken as a warning to use 
this analogy carefully. Take once more the case of science. In 
spite of the profound changes in general outlook and method 
which have occurred only in the last 400 years of scientific 
development, we can see a distinct coherence of the contribution 
to science during that period. Most of the scientists who were 
highly respected in their own time are still in high regard among 
scientists to-day, and few have been added to the ranks of great 
scientists to-day whose works were generally thought valueless 
in their own days. It is true that many of Kepler’s, or even 
Galileo’s or Newton’s arguments may appear irrelevant to-day. 
And again, Galileo and Newton would probably be profoundly 



unsatisfied with the kind of explanation quantum mechanics 
gives us of atomic processes. But Galileo and Newton remain 
nevertheless classics of modern science. Their discoveries are 
the very foundations of tahe picture which we are forming of 
nature to-day and their methods of investigation are still among 
the archetypes of the modern scientific method. Their personal 
example is recognized with unchanging loyalty and indeed 
with a reverence which increases through the centuries as the 
realm of science, which they founded, continues to extend its 

This coherence of science over the centuries is paralleled by 
its coherence over all regions of the planet. Some energetic 
attempts have been made in the past fifteen years or so to make 
scientists in Germany believe that as Germans they must dis- 
believe relativity and quantum mechanics, and since 1939 great 
pressure has been exercised on scientists in Russia to reject 
Mendelism on account of its supposed incompatibility with 
Marxism, but these objectionable efforts have happily been 
sporadic. On the whole, science is still accepted to-day in the 
same way all over the world. 

Here, I believe, we have before us a sufficient logical ground 
for the spontaneous co-ordination of individual scientific dis- 
coveries. The ground is provided by such coherence as science 
does possess. Insofar as there exists a steady underlying purpose 
in each step of scientific discovery, and each such step can be 
competently judged as to its conformity to this purpose and its 
success in approaching it, these steps can be made to add up 
spontaneously to the most efficient pursuit of science. 


Let us expound this a little further, for it contains the 
essential result of our whole line of thought. 

It is not quite enough to recognize science as pursuing a 
consistent purpose. So did, in a way, the students of the caballa, 
the witch hunters and the astrologers, and we must distinguish 
the purpose of science from that of these erroneous pursuits. 
We could not speak of a true spontaneous growth of science if 
we considered the apparent coherence of science as a result of a 
series of accidents, or as the expression of a persistent error. 



We must believe on the contrary that it represents the consistent 
expansion of some kind of truth. In other words we must accept 
science as something real, as a spiritual reality partly disclosed 
at any particular moment by the past achievements of science 
and to be disclosed ever further by discoveries yet to come. We 
should regard the minds of scientists engaged in research as 
seeking intuitive contact with these as yet undisclosed parts of 
science, and look upon discovery as the result of a successful 
contact with a hitherto hidden reality. Whenever a scientist 
wrestles with his intellectual conscience, whether to accept or 
reject an idea, he should be taken to be making contact with the 
whole tradition of science, in fact with all scientists of the past 
whose example he is following, all those living whose approval 
he is seeking and all those yet to come for whom he is proposing 
to establish a new teaching. 

The coherence of science must be regarded as an expression 
of the common rootedness of scientists in the same spiritual 
reality. Then only can we properly understand that at every 
step, each is pursuing a common underlying purpose and that 
each can sufficiently judge — in general accordance with other 
scientific opinion — whether his contribution is valid or not. 
Only then are the conditions for the spontaneous co-ordination 
of scientists properly established. 

This view of the coherence of science leads us back to the two 
rival aspects of freedom and allows us to combine the two. 
Science, we can see now, shows strong features corresponding 
to both aspects of freedom. The assertion of his personal 
passion is the mark of the great pioneer, who is the salt of the 
earth in science. Originality is the principal virtue of a scientist 
and the revolutionary character of scientific progress is indeed 
proverbial. At the same time science has a most closely knit 
professional tradition; it rivals the Church of Rome and the 
legal profession in continuity of doctrine and strength of corpor- 
ate spirit. Scientific rigour is as proverbial as scientific radical- 
ism. Science fosters a maximum of originality while imposing 
also an exceptional degree of critical rigour. 

And yet between these two aspects there is no disharmony. 
A clash may occasionally occur between originality of the 
individual and the critical opinion of his fellow scientists, but 
there can be no conflict between the principles of spontaneity 


4 0 

and constraint. There are no romantic scientists who demand 
the prerogative to express their individuality as such, heedless of 
other scientists’ opinions. The revolutionary in science does not 
claim to be heard on the grounds of any right to assert his 
personality against outside compulsion, but because he believes 
he has grounds for establishing a new universally compelling 
opinion. He breaks the law as it is, in the name of the law as he 
believes it ought to be. He has an intensely personal vision of 
something which in his view henceforth everyone must recog- 

This unity between personal creative passion and willing- 
ness to submit to tradition and discipline is a necessary con- 
sequence of the spiritual reality of science. When the scientist’s 
intuition seeks discovery, it is reaching out for contact with a 
reality in which all other scientists participate with him. There- 
fore, his most personal acts of intuition and conscience link him 
firmly to the universal system and the canons of science. While 
the whole progress of science is due to the force of individual 
impulses, these impulses are not respected in science as such, 
but only insofar as they are dedicated to the tradition of science 
and are disciplined by the standards of science. 

These considerations can be readily extended to scholar- 
ship in general. Academic freedom can claim to be an efficient 
form of organization for discovery in all fields of systematic 
study controlled by a tradition of intellectual discipline. 


The example of the jigsaw puzzle has proved useful. It has 
guided us to an effective union of the two rival aspects of free- 
dom. This example gave us also a hint concerning the dangers 
of an outside central authority superseding the impulses of 
individual initiatives. We can now see more clearly how this 
applies to academic pursuits, particularly in their relation to the 
State. If the spontaneous growth of scholarship requires that 
scholars be dedicated to the service of a transcendent reality, 
then this implies that they must be free from all temporal 
authority. Any intervention on the part of an outside authority 
could only destroy their contact with the aims which they are 
pledged to pursue. 



So far the position is fairly simple. But tolerance of academic 
freedom by the State is not enough to-day. On the modern 
scale, institutions of higher learning and higher education can 
be upheld only by public subsidies. But if scholars are rewarded 
by the State and given by the State the means for conducting 
their researches, the government may well bring to bear on 
them a pressure deflecting them from academic interests and 
standards. For example, a dairy-producing State, like Iowa, 
may dislike it if its scholars discover and make known the nutri- 
tive and economic advantages of margarine, and the legislature 
of the State may want to intervene against its own State Uni- 
versity to prevent it from publishing such conclusions, as this 
in fact happened quite recently in Iowa. There are many oppor- 
tunities for such conflicts between the immediate interests of 
the State and the interests of learning and truth cultivated for 
their own sake. How can these conflicts be avoided? 

Up to a point the solution to such conflicts is fairly straight- 
forward. The fact that the King appoints and pays the judges 
does not affect their independence so long as the King is under 
the law. The King of England also appoints and pays the chief 
opponent of his own government in the person of the leader of 
the parliamentary opposition. Governmental patronage is no 
danger to the independence of the persons appointed, so long as 
these are allowed to function properly. It then merely amounts 
to an undertaking by the government to provide fuel and oil 
for a machine, the operation of which is not controlled by it. 
In the case of legal appointments, the machine is controlled by 
the principles of justice as laid down by law and interpreted by 
the legal profession ; while in the case of political appointments, 
the King sanctions the popular will as expressed through the 
established electoral machinery. 

These examples, particularly that of the appointment of 
judges by the government, are a close illustration of the way 
in which the State can give support to academic scholarship, 
without impairing academic independence. It must regard an 
independent academic life in the same light as it regards an 
independent administration of justice. Its respect for scholar- 
ship and for the principles guiding the free advancement and 
dissemination of knowledge must be rooted as deeply as its 
respect for law and justice. Both should derive validity from 



similar sources ; from transcendent principles embodied in great 
traditions to the service of which our civilization is dedicated. 

But however great the respect of the State for an indepen- 
dent judiciary, it could not give effect to this attitude if the legal 
profession were divided into rival schools of thought; for the 
State would then have to arbitrate between these. Something 
similar holds in respect to scholarship. A government can fully 
observe the freedom of science in all questions on which 
scientific opinion has on the whole agreed; but if academic 
opinion were sharply divided in assessing the merits of dis- 
coveries and the abilities of scholars, then there would be no 
possibility of maintaining academic freedom. Suppose that when 
the appropriate academic committee assembles to elect a new 
professor, it could turn for advice to no accepted leaders of 
scholarship and would have no accepted standards of scholar- 
ship by which to judge candidates. Chairs would then have to 
be filled by the light of other than academic considerations, 
and the next best thing might probably be to please popular 
opinion or the government in power. A strong and homogene- 
ous academic opinion, deriving its coherence from its common 
rootedness in the same scholarly tradition, is an indispensable 
safeguard of academic freedom. If there exists such an academic 
opinion, and if popular opinion respects academic opinion, then 
there is no danger to academic freedom. Then it matters little 
whether the universities get their money from public or private 

A survey of the universities in various countries shows a 
great variety of machinery for making academic appointments. 
But I can find very little connection between the nature of these 
constitutions and the strength of academic freedom established 
under their dominion. In some Continental countries — e.g. 
Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland — 
State-run universities have been a complete success; whereas 
in some States of America, for example, they have been re- 
peatedly impaired by an intolerant legislature. The difference 
lies entirely in the condition of public opinion, which has shown 
a greater respect for the autonomy of scholarship, say, in the 
canton of Zurich than in the State of Iowa. Nor is self- 
government of universities a safeguard against corruption of 
academic freedom. I know of instances where universities were 


run for a generation by a clique of professors, keeping up a close 
system of nepotism and political patronage. Any candidate who 
had acquired a scientific reputation was regarded as a seeker of 
publicity who was trying to force himself on the university by 
unfair practices. While institutional safeguards of academic 
freedom are desirable, we must not forget that they are not 
enough, and may even become the shield of a corrupt academic 

Among the desirable institutional safeguards I should like 
particularly to mention the custom of permanent academic 
appointments. Appointment for life, or until the age of retire- 
ment, grants a high degree of independence to the scholar, as 
it does to the judge and to the minister of religion. The case of 
the permanently appointed scholar is, however, somewhat 
peculiar. For in contrast to the judge and the minister, his 
obligations are not even remotely laid down by any explicit 
rule. His duties as teacher and administrator should not take up 
all his time, but leave him free to devote his principal energies 
to creative work. There is no way of enforcing that he will go 
on doing such work. All you can rely on is his love of his work 
and the hope that this love will last. You cannot expect that 
love to be replaced by a sense of duty, as it may perhaps be 
in marriage; for no one can make discoveries from a sense of 
duty without creative passion. We can see here how completely 
the personal aspect of freedom — the liberty to assert oneself — 
coincides in the field of scholarship with the social aspect of 
freedom, which is a surrender to the service of impersonal 


We may like to test these views further by applying them to 
some questions of detail. We may turn for example to the differ- 
ence, which at first sight appears puzzling, between the 
independent standing claimed here for members of the academic 
profession and the admittedly subordinate condition of well- 
trained scientists engaged in various forms of surveying and of 
scholars employed as bibliographers and the like. This differ- 
ence finds its ready justification in the distinction between 
creative and routine work. We may recall the example of the 
jigsaw puzzle. The helpers are granted individual liberty because 

44 the logic of liberty 

they have to guess their way at each step. To guess the solution 
to a problem offered by nature — as demanded of the scientist 
— requires the exercise of intuitive faculties controlled by an 
intellectual conscience. They are the means for establishing 
creative contacts with a hidden reality. Each such contact will 
lead to a new departure in a more or less unexpected direction, 
and it is precisely in order to find these directions that each 
scholar is made to act independently. In a process of surveying, 
on the other hand, the direction of progress is necessarily laid 
down in advance. Surveying entails therefore that the helpers 
engaged in it should accept a comprehensive project laid down 
for them beforehand. When such a scheme is in existence, its 
fulfilment by the contributions of the individual surveyors can 
be directed by a central authority, and it is desirable that it 
should be so directed. The tasks of individual surveyors will be 
quite properly allocated to them from above; they have no 
claim to academic freedom. 

It is equally easy to dispose of the claim to academic free- 
dom of applied scientists in industry or government offices. 
There is a good deal of confusion, intellectual, emotional and 
political, on this subject. The obvious fact of the matter is that 
any research which is conducted explicitly for a purpose other 
than that of the advancement of knowledge, must be guided 
ultimately by the authorities responsible for that outside pur- 
pose. Such external purposes are usually practical, like the 
waging of war, or the improvement of some public service — 
like telephones or roads — or simply the earning of profits for 
a firm operating in industry. If the research worker is to serve 
any of these purposes he must submit his own contribution to 
the judgment of those who are ultimately responsible for waging 
war, running the telephone system, building roads, or making 
profits for a commercial enterprise. He must accept their deci- 
sion as to what is required of him for their purposes. He will 
do his job well only, if after due discussion, he relies confidently 
on the final decision of the chief executive to whom he is 
responsible. The degree of subordination essential to the 
successful working of the applied scientist will vary a great deal. 
But there should be no difficulty in dealing with any particular 
case on the basis of the same general principle. Broadly speaking, 
you must choose between dedication to the advancement of a 


system of knowledge which requires freedom, or the pursuit 
of applied science which involves subordination. 

There is of course no difference in the personal respect due 
to the individual engaged in surveying or in applied science, as 
compared with the respect due to a pure scientist. He may be 
the same man at different periods of his life. During the war a 
large number of academic scientists volunteered to do practical 
work. They all had to accept a measure of subordination. I 
merely say that certain jobs require for their efficient perform- 
ance that men should be free, while others require that they 
should be subject to direction from above. 


Academic freedom is of course never an isolated pheno- 
menon. It can exist only in a free society; for the principles 
underlying it are the same on which the most essential liberties 
of society as a whole are founded. 

Our analysis of free academic activities has given us a clear 
conception of men and women evaluating hidden possibilities 
of the mind. We have observed them living in a common 
creative tradition and making contact with a spiritual reality 
underlying that tradition. We have seen them exercising their 
powers of intuition and judging their own ideas in the light of 
their intellectual conscience. Reference has been made to impor- 
tant analogies such as the functions of judges and of ministers 
of religion. These could be readily extended further. In a court- 
room, for example, there are others apart from the judges who 
act on spiritual grounds. There are witnesses who may find it 
hard to tell the truth and yet do so. There are jurymen and 
counsel who must try to be fair and who may have occasion to 
wrestle with their consciences. (Think of the jurymen in the 
famous trial of Emile Zola, who were harassed by threatening 
letters and demonstrations at thcir^ homes throughout the 
proceedings.) Everywhere in the world there are people who 
are trusted by their fellowmen to tell the truth or to be fair; 
there are consciences touched by compassion, struggling against 
the ties of comfort or the callousness born of harsh custom. 

Our lives are full of such conflicts. Wherever these contacts 
are made with spiritual obligations, there is an opportunity for 


asserting liberty. There are great examples in history and there 
are many small instances every day, of people who assert their 
liberty on grounds of this kind. A nation whose citizens are 
sensitive to the claims of conscience and are not afraid to follow 
them, is a free nation. A country in which questions of con- 
science are generally regarded as real, and where people are on 
the whole prepared to admit them as legitimate motives and 
even to put up with considerable inconvenience or hardship, 
caused by others acting on such motives — such a country is a 
free country. 

These contacts with transcendent obligations may reach 
high levels of creativity. They may inspire prophetic announce- 
ments or other great innovations. In some fields — as in science, 
in scholarship or the administration of the law — this will con- 
tribute to the development of an intellectual system. In this 
case we can observe a process of definite self-co-ordination. 
But all contacts with spiritual reality have a measure of coher- 
ence. A free people, among whom many are on the alert for calls 
on their consciences, will show a spontaneous coherence of this 
kind. They may feel that it all comes from being rooted in the 
same national tradition ; but this tradition may well be merely 
a national variant of a universal human tradition. For a similar 
coherence will be found between different nations when each 
follows a national tradition of this type. They will form a com- 
munity of free peoples. They may argue and quarrel, yet will 
always settle each new difficulty in the end, firmly rooted in the 
same transcendent ground. 


Finally, let me return briefly to the great problem of the 
totalitarian danger at which I have hinted at the start. We can 
see two points emerging from our discussion of academic free- 
dom and of freedom in general. 

It appears, first, that the usual antithesis of the individual 
versus the State is a false guide to the issue of freedom versus 
totalitarianism. The most essential freedoms, at any rate, are 
those in which it is not the individual pursuing his personal 
interests who claims to be respected by the State. Freedom is 
demanded by the dedicated individual in view of the grounds 


to which he is dedicated. He speaks to the State as a liegeman of 
a higher master demanding homage to his master. The true 
antithesis is therefore between the State and the invisible things 
which guide men’s creative impulses and in which men’s con- 
sciences are naturally rooted. The general foundations of coher- 
ence and freedom in society may be regarded as secure to the 
extent to which men uphold their belief in the reality of truth, 
justice, charity and tolerance, and accept dedication to the service 
of these realities; while society may be expected to disintegrate 
and fall into servitude when men deny, explain away, or simply 
disregard these realities and transcendent obligations. 

The totalitarian form of the State arises logically from the 
denial of reality to this realm of transcendent ideas. When the 
spiritual foundations of all freely dedicated human activities — 
of the cultivation of science and scholarship, of the vindication 
of justice, of the profession of religion, of the pursuit of free art 
and free political discussion — when the transcendent grounds 
of all these free activities are summarily denied, then the State 
becomes, of necessity, inheritor to all ultimate devotion of men. 
For if truth is not real and absolute, then it may seem proper 
that the public authorities should decide what should be called 
the truth. And if justice is not real and absolute, then it may 
seem proper that the government should decide what shall be 
considered just or unjust. Indeed, if our conceptions of truth and 
justice are determined by interests of some kind or other, then 
it is right that the public interest should overrule all personal 
interests in this matter. We have here a full justification of 
totalitarian statehood. 

In other words, while a radical denial of absolute obligations 
cannot destroy the moral passions of man, it can render them 
homeless. The desire for justice and brotherhood can then no 
more confess itself for what it is, but will seek embodiment in 
some theory of salvation through violence. Thus we see arising 
those sceptical, hardboiled, allegedly scientific forms of fanatic- 
ism which are so characteristic of our modem age. 

The study of academic freedom which we have pursued 
may serve to show what is the decisive point in the issue of 
liberty. It consists in certain metaphysical assumptions without 
which freedom is logically untenable, and without the firm 
profession of which freedom can be upheld only in a state of 



suspended logic, which threatens to collapse at any moment and 
which in these searching and revolutionary times cannot fail 
to collapse before long. 

Man’s rapidly increasing destructive powers will soon put 
the ideas of our time to a crucial test. We may be faced with the 
fact that only by resuming the great tradition which embodies 
faith in these realities can the continuance of the human race 
on earth, equipped with the powers of modern science, be 
made both possible and desirable. 



It is difficult to trace a complete and authoritative state- 
ment of the argument used in support of the State control of 
science ; but I believe that in its most precise form it would run 
as follows. “No scientific statement is absolutely valid, for there 
are always some underlying assumptions present, the acceptance 
of which represents an arbitrary act of faith. Arbitrariness 
prevails once more when scientists choose to pursue research 
in any one direction rather than another. Since the contents 
of science and the progress of science both vitally concern the 
community as a whole, it is wrong to allow decisions affecting 
science to be taken by private individuals. Decisions such as 
these should be reserved to the public authorities who are 
responsible for the public good ; whence it follows that both the 
teaching of science and the conduct of research must be con- 
trolled by the State.” 

I believe this reasoning to be fallacious and its conclusions 
to be wrong. Yet I shall not try to meet the argument point by 
point, but will instead oppose it as a whole by analysing the 
actual state of affairs which it altogether misrepresents. I 
shall survey the individuals and groups who normally take the 
decisions which contribute to the growth and dissemination of 
science. I shall show that the individual scientist, the body of 
scientists and the general public, each play their part and that 
this distribution of functions is inherent in the process of 
scientific development, so that none of these functions can be 
delegated to a superior authority. I shall argue that any attempt 
to do this could only result in the distortion — and if persisted 
in, in the complete destruction — of science. I shall demonstrate 
instances where such attempts have actually been made and 
where that destruction actually came to pass. 

1 Address to the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, 
February, 194a. 





The primary decisions in the shaping of scientific progress 
are made by individual investigators when they embark on a 
particular line of inquiry. The independent investigator is 
to-day usually a professional scientist, appointed by the public 
authorities on the basis of his scientific record to a post where 
he is expected to do research. He is given freedom to use his 
own time for research and is given control over means in money 
and personnel. 

The granting of such discretion to individuals for the pur- 
poses of their profession is fairly common in all departments of 
life. Holders of higher posts in Business, Politics, the Law, 
Medicine, the Army, the Church, are all invested with powers 
which enable them to follow their own judgment within the 
framework of certain rules and to use this freedom in order to 
discharge their duties. Yet the degree of independence granted to 
the scientist may appear to be greater than that allowed to other 
professional men. A business man's duty is to make profits, a 
judge’s to find the law, a general’s to defeat the enemy; while 
in each case the choice of the specific means for fulfilling their 
task is left to the judgment of the person in charge, the stan- 
dards of success are laid down for them from outside. For the 
scientist this does not hold to the same extent. It is part of his 
commission to revise and renew by pioneer achievements the 
very standards by which his work is to be judged. He may be 
denied full recognition for a considerable time — and yet his 
claims may be ultimately vindicated. But the difference is only 
one of degree. All standards of professional success undergo 
some change in the course of professional practice, and on the 
other hand even the most daring pioneer in science accepts the 
general conceptions of scientific achievement and bases his 
scientific claims essentially on traditional standards. 

In any case, the powers to use his own intuitive judgment 
and the encouragement to embark on original lines of inquiry 
are not given to the scientist to enable him to pursue his own 
personal wishes. The high degree of independence he enjoys is 
granted only to enable him to discharge the more effectively 
his professional obligations. His task is to discover the oppor- 
tunities in the given state of science for the most successful 


application of his own talents and to devote himself to the 
exploitation of these openings. The wider his freedom, the 
more fully can he throw the force of his personal conviction into 
the attack on his own problem. 

At the start his task is yet hidden, but it is none the less 
definite. There is ample evidence to show that at any moment 
the next possibilities of discovery in science are few. The next 
step to be taken in any particular field is in fact sometimes so 
clear that we read of a “dramatic race” between leading 
scientists for an impending discovery. A series of such races 
took place within a period of a few years for the discovery of 
the synthesis of various vitamins. In 1935 Karrer in Zurich 
and Kuhn in Heidelberg competed in the synthesis of Vitamin 
B 2 . In 1936 three teams, Andersag and Westphal in Germany, 
Williams and Cline in the United States and Todd and Bergel 
in England raced for the synthesis of Vitamin B x . And in 1938 
one of the participants in the B x race, Todd, and one in the B 2 
race, Karrer, rivalled closely in the synthesis of Vitamin E. 
Only a few years earlier (1930) a great race was won in physics 
when Cockcroft and Walton, working under Rutherford's 
guidance in Cambridge, accomplished the artificial disintegra- 
tion of the atom by electric discharge — ahead of Lange and 
Brasch in Germany and Breit, Tuve, Hafstad, Lauritsen, 
Lawrence and others in America. Or to take an example in pure 
theoretical physics: between 1920 and 1925 the standing 
problem of theoretical physicists was the reconciliation of 
classical mechanics and quantum theory ; and around the year 
1925, a number of physicists (de Broglie, Heisenberg, Born, 
Schrodinger, Dirac) did actually discover — more or less 
independently — the various parts of the solution. In a review of 
Eve's biography of Rutherford, Sir Charles Darwin 1 roughly 
estimates by how much Rutherford may have anticipated his 
contemporaries with his various discoveries and suggests for 
most cases spans of time ranging from a few months to three or 
four years. Rutherford himself is quoted as saying that no one 
can see more than an eighth of an inch beyond his nose and that 
only a great man can look even as far as that. 

Scientific research is not made less creative nor less in- 
dependent by the fact that at any particular time only a few 
1 Nature , 3670, Vol. 145, p. 324, 2nd March, 1940. 


discoveries are possible. We do not think less of the genius of 
Columbus because there was only one New World on this 
planet for him to discover. 

Though the task is definite enough, the finding of the 
solution is none the less intuitive. It is essential to start in 
science with the right guess about the direction of further 
progress. The whole career of a scientist often remains linked 
to the development of the single subject which stimulated his 
earliest guesses. All along the scientist is constantly collecting, 
developing and revising a set of half-conscious surmises, an 
assortment of private clues, which are his confidential guides 
to the mastery of his subject. 

This loose system of intuitions cannot be formulated in 
definite terms. It represents a personal outlook which can be 
transmitted only — and very imperfectly at that — to personal 
collaborators who can watch for a year or two its daily applica- 
tion to the current problems of the laboratory. This outlook is 
as much emotional as it is intellectual. The expectations which 
it entertains are no idle guesses, but active hopes filled with 

The emotions of the scientist also express and uphold 
the values guiding research; they turn with admiration to 
courage and reliability and pour scorn on the commonplace and 
the fanciful. Such emotions again can be transmitted only by 
direct contact in the course of active collaboration. The leader 
of a research school has no more important function than to 
maintain enthusiasm for research among his students and instil 
in them the love of his own particular field. 

Such is the calling of the scientist. The state of knowledge 
and the existing standards of science define the range within 
which he must find his task. He has to guess in which field 
and to what new problem his own special gifts can be most 
fruitfully applied. At this stage his gifts are still undisclosed, 
the problem is yet obscure. There is in him a hidden key, 
capable of opening a hidden lock. There is only one force 
which can reveal both key and lock and bring the two together: 
the creative urge which is inherent in the faculties of man and 
which guides them instinctively to the opportunities for their 
manifestation. The world outside can help by teaching, en- 
couragement and criticism, but all the essential decisions leading 


to discovery remain personal and intuitive. No one with the 
least experience of a higher art or of any function requiring 
higher judgment, could conceive it to be possible that decisions 
such as these could be taken by one person for another. 
Decisions of this kind can in fact only be suppressed by the 
attempt to transfer them to an outside authority. 


The scientist to-day cannot practise his calling in isolation. 
He must occupy a definite position within a framework of 
institutions. A chemist becomes a member of the chemical 
profession; a zoologist, a mathematician or a psychologist — 
each belongs to a particular group of specialized scientist. 
The different groups of scientists together form the scientific 
community . 

The opinion of this community exercises a profound 
influence on the course of every individual investigation. 
Broadly speaking, while the choice of subjects and the actual 
conduct of research is entirely the responsibility of the in- 
dividual scientist, the recognition of claims to discoveries is 
under the jurisdiction of scientific opinion expressed by scientists 
as a body. Scientific opinion excercises its power largely in- 
formally, but partly also by the use of an organized machinery. 
At any particular time only a certain range of subjects is deemed 
by this opinion to be profitable for scientific work and, accord- 
ingly, no training or posts are offered outside these fields, either 
for teaching or for research, while existing research schools and 
journals available for publication will also be restricted to these 

In fact, even within the fields recognized at any particular 
time, scientific papers can be published only with the pre- 
liminary approval of two or three independent referees, called 
in as advisers by the editor of the journal. The referees express 
an opinion particularly on two points: whether the claims of the 
paper are sufficiently well substantiated and whether it possesses 
a sufficient degree of scientific interest to be worth publishing. 
Both characteristics are assessed by conventional standards 
which change with the passage of time according to the variations 
of scientific opinion. Sometimes it may be felt that the tendency 



among authors is towards too much speculation, which the 
referees will then try to correct by imposing more discipline. 
At other times there may seem to be a danger of absorption in 
mere mechanical work, which referees will again try to curb 
by insisting that papers should show more penetration and 
originality. Naturally at different periods there are also marked 
variations as regards the conclusions that are considered suffi- 
ciently plausible. A few years ago there was a period in which 
it was easy to get a paper printed claiming the transformation of 
chemical elements by ordinary laboratory processes 1 ; to-day — 
as in earlier times — this would be found difficult, if not alto- 
gether impossible. 

The referees advising scientific journals will also encourage 
to some extent those lines of research which they consider to 
be particularly promising, whilst discouraging other lines of 
which they have a poor opinion. The dominant powers in this 
respect, however, are exercised by referees advising on scientific 
appointments, on the allocation of special subsidies and on the 
award of distinctions. Advice on these points, which often 
involve major issues of the policy of science, is usually asked 
from and tendered by a small number of senior scientists who 
are universally recognized as the most eminent in a particular 
branch. They are the chief Influential, the unofficial governors 
of the scientific community. By their advice they can either delay 
or accelerate the growth of a new line of research. They can 
provide special subsidies for new lines of research at any 
moment. By the award of prizes and of other distinctions, they 
can invest a promising pioneer almost overnight with a position 
of authority and independence. More slowly, but no less 
effectively, a new development can be stimulated by the policy 
pursued by the Influential in advising on new appointments. 
Within a decade or so a new school of thought can be established 
by the selection of appropriate candidates for Chairs which 
have fallen vacant during that period. The same end can be 
advanced even more effectively by the setting up of new Chairs. 

The constant re-direction of scientific interest by the leaders 
of scientific opinion, fulfils the important function of keeping 
the standards of performance in the different branches of 
science approximately at an equal level. This level is jointly 
1 Comp, my Science , Faith and Society (1946) p. 76. 



characterized by three factors: (i) the intrinsic interest of the 
subject-matter, which may be contemplative or practical. (2) 
the profundity or systematic interest of the generalizations 
involved and (3) the certainty and precision of the new statements 
made. In every branch of science this threefold valuation will 
have to be applied jointly, due regard being given particularly 
to the wide variations in the intrinsic interest of different sub- 
ject-matters. Accordingly, less precision and systematic co- 
herence will be required for example in the study of living 
matter and of human beings in particular, than in the study of 
inanimate bodies. The leaders of scientific opinion are re- 
sponsible for maintaining all along the advancing frontier of 
science approximately uniform standards of value. Guided by 
these standards, they will keep shifting resources and encourage- 
ment to the more successful growing points of science, at the 
expense of the less fruitful sections; which will produce a 
tendency towards the most economical utilization of the total 
resources available to science, both in brainpower and in money. 

The steady equalization of standards in all branches is 
necessary, not only in order to maintain a rational distribution 
of resources and recruits for research schools throughout the 
field of science, but also in order to uphold in every branch the 
authority of science with regard to the general public. With the 
relation of science and the public I shall presently deal in some 
detail. But a particular aspect of it requires mention at this 
stage, since it involves the final phase of the process by which 
recognition is given to new scientific claims. Published papers 
are open to discussion and their results may remain controversial 
for a while. But scientific controversies are usually settled — 
or else shelved to await further evidence — within a reasonable 
time. The results then pass over into textbooks for universities 
and schools and become part of generally accepted opinion. 
This final process of codification is again under the control 
of the body of scientific opinion, as expressed by reviews, 
under whose authority textbooks are brought into circulation. 

The standards of science — like those of all other arts and 
professions — are transmitted largely by tradition. Science in 
the modern sense originated some 300 years ago from the work 
of a small number of pioneers, among whom Vesalius and 
Galileo, Boyle, Harvey and Newton were pre-eminent. The 


founders of modern science have discussed extensively and 
with considerable insight the new methods which they applied; 
moreover, the doctrines of the contemporary philosophy — 
particularly through John Locke — gave full expression to their 
outlook. Yet the core of the scientific method lies in the practical 
example of its works. Whatever the various philosophies of the 
scientific method may still reveal, modern science must 
continue to be defined as the search for truth on the lines set 
by the examples of Galileo and his contemporaries. No pioneer 
of science, however revolutionary — neither Pasteur, Darwin, 
Freud nor Einstein — has denied the validity of that tradition, 
nor even relaxed it in the least. 

Modern science is a local tradition and is not easily trans- 
mitted from one place to another. Countries such as Australia, 
New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, 
have built great modern cities with spacious universities, but 
they have rarely succeeded in founding important schools of 
research. The current scientific production of these countries 
before the war was still less than the single contributions of 
either Denmark, Sweden or Holland. Those who have visited 
parts of the world where scientific life is just beginning, know 
of the back-breaking struggle that the lack of scientific tradition 
imposes on the pioneers. Here research work stagnates for lack 
of stimulus, there it runs wild in the absence of any proper 
directive influence. Unsound reputations grow like mushrooms : 
based on nothing but commonplace achievements, or even on 
mere empty boasts. Politics and business play havoc with 
appointments and the granting of subsidies for research. 
However rich the fund of local genius may be, such environ- 
ment will fail to bring it to fruition. In the early phase in question, 
New Zealand loses its Rutherford, Australia its Alexander and 
its Bragg, and such losses retard further the growth of science 
in a new country. Rarely, if ever, was the final acclimatization 
of science outside Europe achieved, until the government of a 
country succeeded in inducing a few scientists from some 
traditional centre to settle down in their territory and to develop 
there a new home for scientific life, moulded on their own 
traditional standards. This demonstrates perhaps most vividly 
the fact that science as a whole is based — in the same way as the 
practice of any single research school — on a local tradition, 



consisting of a fund of intuitive approaches and emotional values, 
which can be transmitted from one generation to the other 
only through the medium of personal collaboration. 

Scientific research — in short — is an art; it is the art of making 
certain kinds of discoveries. The scientific profession as a 
whole has the function of cultivating that art by transmitting 
and developing the tradition if its practice. The value which we 
attribute to science — whether its progress be considered good, 
bad or indifferent from a chosen point of view — does not matter 
here. Whatever that value may be, it still remains true that the 
tradition of science as an art can be handed on only by those 
practising that art. There can be therefore no question of another 
authority replacing scientific opinion for the purposes of this 
function ; and any attempt to do so can result only in a clumsy 
distortion and — if persistently applied — in the more or less 
complete destruction of the tradition of science. 


Professional scientists form a very small minority in the 
community, perhaps one in ten thousand. The ideas and 
opinions of so small a group can be of importance only by 
virtue of the response which they evoke from the general 
public. This response is indispensable to science, which depends 
on it for money to pay the costs of research and for recruits to 
replenish the ranks of the profession. Clearly, science can 
continue to exist on the modem scale only so long as the 
authority it claims is accepted by large groups of the public. 

Why do people decide to accept science as valid? Can they 
not see the limitations of scientific demonstrations — in the 
pre-selected evidence, the pre-conceived theories, the always 
basically deficient documentation? They may see these short- 
comings, or at least they may be made to see them. The fact 
remains that they must make up their minds about their material 
surroundings in one way or another. Men must form ideas about 
the material universe and must embrace definite convictions 
on the subject. No part of the human race has ever been known 
to exist without a system of such convictions and it is clear that 
their absence would mean intellectual annihilation. The public 
must choose, therefore, either to believe in science or else in 



some rival explanation of nature, such as that offered by 
Aristotle, the Bible, Astrology or Magic. Of all such alternatives 
the public of our times has in its majority chosen science. 

This acceptance of science was achieved gradually through 
centuries of struggles which I will not try to recount here. 
But the victory was not complete and it is not necessarily final. 
Pockets of anti-scientific views persist in various forms. For 
instance, scientific medicine is rejected by that part of the 
public in Western countries which professes Christian Science ; 
fundamentalism challenges geology and evolution; astrology 
has a more or less vague ascendancy in wide circles ; spiritualism 
carries on a borderline existence between science and mysticism. 
These persistent centres of heterodoxy are a constant challenge 
to science. It is not inconceivable that from one of these there 
may emerge in the future some element of truth inaccessible 
to the scientific method, which might form the starting-point of 
a new interpretation of nature. In any case, these anti-scientific 
movements constitute at present an effective test of the spon- 
taneous acceptance of science: their failure to spread their 
doctrines further shows that science remains considerably 
more convincing than any other of the possible alternatives. 


I have shown that the forces contributing to the growth 
and dissemination of science operate in three stages. The 
individual scientists take the initiative in choosing their 
problems and conducting their investigations; the body of 
scientists controls each of its members by imposing the 
standards of science; and finally the people decide in public 
discussion whether or not to accept science as the true explana- 
tion of nature. At each stage a human will operates. But this 
exercise of will is fully determined on each occasion by the 
responsibility inherent in the action; hence any attempt to 
direct these actions from outside must inevitably distort or 
destroy their proper meaning. 

There are two recent instances on record of attempts made 
to break the autonomy of scientific life and to subordinate it 
to State direction. The one made by National Socialist Germany 
was so crude and cynical that it is easy to demonstrate its 


purely destructive nature. Take the following utterances 
attributed to Himmler, in which he reproved German scholars 
who refused to accept as genuine a forged document concerning 
German pre-history: 

“We don’t care a hoot whether this or something else was the 
real truth about the pre-history of the German tribes. Science 
proceeds from hypotheses that change every year or two. So 
there’s no earthly reason why the party should not lay down a 
particular hypothesis as the starting-point, even if it runs counter 
to current scientific opinion. The one and only thing that matters 
to us, and the thing these people are paid for by the State, is to 
have ideas of history that strengthen our people in their necessary 
national pride.” 1 

Clearly, Himmler only pretended here — as a mere form of 
words — that he wished to readjust the foundations of science; 
his actual purpose was to suppress free inquiry in order to 
consolidate a particular falsehood which he considered useful. 
The philosophical difficulties in the position of science were 
used only in order to confuse the issue and to cloak — however 
thinly — an act of sheer violence. 


The attempts of the Soviet Government to start a new kind 
of science are on an altogether different level. They represent a 
genuine effort to run science for the public good and they 
provide therefore a proper test of the principles involved in 
such an attempt. 

I shall illustrate the process and its results by the example of 
genetics and plant-breeding, to which governmental direction 
was applied with particular energy. 2 The intervention of the 
State in these fields began about the year 1930 and was defi- 
nitely established by the All-Union Conference on the Planning 
of Genetics and Selection held in Leningrad in 1932. Up to 
that time genetics developed and greatly flourished in Russia 
as a free science, guided by the standards that were recognized 

1 H. Rauschning, Hitler Speaks (1939), PP- 224-5. 

2 Note that the date of writing is December 1942. I have left the account 
unchanged for its historical interest in showing the position of the Genetics 
Controversy, as it appeared at the time. This, I believe, was the first paper 
to draw attention to the danger involved in it to science in general. 

6 o 


throughout the world. The Conference of 1932 decided that 
genetics and plant-breeding should henceforth be conducted 
with a view to obtaining immediate practical results and on 
lines conforming to the official doctrine of dialectical materia- 
lism, research being directed by the State. 1 

No sooner had these blows been delivered against the 
autonomy of science than the inevitable consequences set in. 
Any person claiming a discovery in genetics and plant-breeding 
could henceforth appeal directly over the heads of scientists 
to gullible practitioners or to political officials. Spurious 
observations and fallacious theories advanced by dilettants, 
cranks and impostors could thus gain currency, unchecked by 
scientific criticism. 

An important case of this kind was that of I. V. Michurin, 
(1855—193 5) a plant-breeding farmer, who some years earlier 
had announced the discovery of new strains of plants produced 
by grafting. He claimed to have achieved revolutionary improve- 
ments in agriculture, and to have obtained a striking confirma- 
tion of dialectical materialism. The opinion of science, on the 
contrary, was — and still remains — that Michurin’ s observa- 
tions were mere illusions and referred to a spurious 
phenomenon, known by the name of ‘Vegetative hybridization” 
which had been frequently described before. The illusion can 
arise from an incomplete statistical analysis of the results 
obtained, and may be occasionally supported also by the fact 
that viruses are transmitted to the graft and its offsprings. The 
occurrence of true hereditary hybridization by grafting would 
be incompatible with the very foundations of modern biological 
science and its existence had been decisively discredited by the 
formulation of Mendel’s laws and the discoveries of cytogenetics. 

The new policy of the Soviet Government, inaugurated in 
1932, paralysed the force of scientific opinion, which had barred 
the way to the acceptance of Michurin’s claims. His work 
appealed to the practical agronomist and it conformed to the 
official philosophy of the State. It thus fulfilled both the 

1 The Communist Academy, founded in 1926, which had originally 
been entrusted with the direction of science in the light of dialectical materia- 
lism, gained no ascendancy over the research work of non-party scientists. 
The inauguration of the policy described in the text coincided with the 
dissolution of the Scientific Section of the Communist Academy and repre- 
sented a replacement of its functions by a more general, if much less extreme, 
application of the principles of dialectical materialism. 


practical and political criteria which had replaced the standards 
of science. Hence — quite logically — Michurin’s work was 
given official recognition. The Government, in its en- 
thusiasm over this first fruit of its new policy in science, went 
even further and erected a monument to Michurin, by re- 
naming the town of Koslov and calling it “Michurinsk” in his 
honour (1932). 

The breach thus made in the autonomy of science laid the 
field of genetics and plant-breeding wide open to further inva- 
sion by spurious claims. The leader of this invasion became 
T. D. Lysenko — a successful worker in agricultural technique — 
who expanded Michurin’s claims into a new theory of heredity 
which he set up in opposition to Mendelism and cytogenetics. 
His popular influence caused hundreds of people without 
proper scientific training, such as farmers and young students of 
agriculture, to attempt grafting experiments with the aim of 
producing “vegetative hybrids”. Lysenko has himself described 
proudly how by the labours of this mass movement vegetative 
hybrids “poured out like the fruits from the horn of 
abundance.” 1 Aided by claims of this kind, Lysenko gained 
high recognition by the government. He was appointed a 
member of the Academy of the U.S.S.R. and made President 
of the Academy of Agricultural Science of the U.S.S.R. By 
1939 his influence had reached the point that he could induce 
the Commissariat of Agriculture to prohibit the methods 
hitherto used in plant-breeding stations and to introduce, 
compulsorily, new ones that were based on his own doctrine 
of heredity and that were contrary to accepted scientific opinion. 2 
In a publication of the same year he even went so far as to 
demand the final elimination of his scientific opponents, 
by the total abolition of genetics in Russia: “In my opinion” — 
he wrote — “it is quite time to remove Mendelism entirely from 
university courses and from the theoretical and practical 
guidance of seed-raising.” 3 

However, the Government hesitated to take this decisive 
step and a conference was called to clarify the situation. The 

1 Lysenko’s speech at the Conference on Genetics and Selection, 
Moscow 1939, quoted in the following as C.G.S. 1939. 

2 Vavilov’s speech, C.G.S. 1939. 

8 Quoted by N. P. Doubinin in his speech at the C.G.S. 1939, from 
Lysenko, The Mentor an all-powerful tool in selection^ p. 38, 1939- 



Editors of the Journal Under the Banner of Marxism acted 
as conveners, and the proceedings, together with an extensive 
editorial commentary, were subsequently published in that 
Journal . 1 The reports of this Conference form impressive 
evidence of the rapid and radical destruction of a branch of 
science, caused clearly by the fact that the conduct of research 
had been placed under the direction of the State. We may note 
that the government in this case was a particularly progressive 
one and that it was aiming at solid benefits for its own people. 
It is all the more significant that in spite of this, the result of its 
action was only to plunge the science of genetics into a morass of 
corruption and confusion. 

The Conference which revealed these conditions to the 
outside observer was presided over by M. B. Mitin (a person 
unknown to international science and probably a representative 
of the Journal), who in his opening speech outlined once again 
the practical and theoretical principles to which science had to 
conform under the direction of the Soviet State. ‘‘We have no 
gulf between theory and practice, we have no Chinese wall 
between scientific achievements and practical activity. Every 
genuine discovery, every genuine scientific achievement is with 
us translated into practice, enters into the life of hundreds of 
institutions, attracts the attention of the mass of people by its 
fruitful results. Soviet biologists, geneticists and selectionists 
must understand dialectical and historical materialism, and learn 
to apply the dialectical method to their scientific work. Verbal, 
formal acceptance of dialectical materialism is not wanted.” 

Academician N. I. Vavilov, internationally recognized 
as the most eminent geneticist in Russia (as shown by his 
election as Foreign Member of the Royal Society) put the case 
for the science of genetics. He surveyed the development of this 
science from its inception and pointed out that not a single 
author of repute anywhere outside Russia would either doubt 
the soundness of cytogenetics, or would be prepared to accept 
the existence of so-called “vegetative hybrids”. 

Such appeals however had by now lost their substance ; with 
the establishment of State supremacy over science, the authority 

1 Translated extracts from the Conference Report were made available 
to me by courtesy of the Society for Cultural Relations w T ith the U.S.S.R. 
The translation was checked and revised by reference to the original test. 


of international scientific opinion had been rendered void. 
Vavilov was rightly answered by confronting him with his own 
declaration, made at the Planning Conference of 1932, in which 
he had deprecated the cultivation of science for its own purpose. 
Yielding at the time perhaps to pressure, or believing it wise to 
meet popular tendencies half-way and little expecting the far- 
reaching consequences which were to follow from the abandon- 
ment of his true principles — he had given way to the point of 
saying: “The divorce of genetics from practical selection, which 
characterizes the research work of the U.S.A., England and 
other countries, must be resolutely removed from genetics- 
selection research in the U.S.S.R.” 1 

Now that such principles were generally accepted, Vavilov 
could raise no legitimate objection if the classical experiments 
to which he referred, and on which his branch of science was 
based, were laughed to scorn by men like the practical plant- 
breeder V. K. Morozov — who addressed the meeting as follows : 
“The representatives of formal genetics say that they get good 
3 : 1 ratio results with Drosophila. Their work with this object 
is very profitable to them, because the affair, as one might say, 
is irresponsible ... if the flies die, they are not penalized.” In 
Morozov’s opinion a science which in twenty years had produced 
no important practical results at his plant-breeding station, 
could not possibly be sound. 2 

This view may in fact be considered as a correct conclusion 
from the criteria of science now officially accepted (though 
fortunately by no means universally enforced) in the Soviet 
Union. If all the evidence drawn from cases not important in 
practice is to be disregarded or at least treated lightly, then little 
proof can remain in support of the theories of genetics. Under 
such circumstances any simple, plausible idea such as the 
fallacies advocated by Lysenko must inevitably acquire 
greater convincing power and gain wider support among all 
non-specialists, whether practitioners or ordinary laymen. 
This is in fact what the Conference on Genetics demonstrated. 
Morozov could assure Lysenko that nearly all practical field 

1 Proceedings of the All-Union Conference on planning Genetics- 
Selection research, Leningrad, June 29th, 1932, p. 21. Academy of Science 
of U.S.S.R., Leningrad 1933, quoted by Lysenko in his speech at C.G.S. 
1939 . 

2 Morozov’s speech, C.G.S. 1939. 



workers, agronomists and collective farmers had become 
followers of his doctrine of heredity. 

The authority of science having been replaced by that 
of the State, it was only logical that political arguments should 
be used against Vavilov's traditional scientific reasoning. 
Lysenko for example said: “N. I. Vavilov knows that one 
cannot defend Mendelism before Soviet readers by writing 
down its foundation, by recounting what it consists of. It 
has become particularly impossible nowadays when millions 
of people possess such a mighty theoretical weapon as The 
Short Course of the History of the All-Union Communist 
Party ( Bolshevists ). When he grasps Bolshevism, the reader 
will not be able to give his sympathy to metaphysics, and 
Mendelism definitely is pure, undisguised metaphysics .” 1 It 
was logical again that Lysenko and his adherents should invoke 
Michurin as an authority whose claims had been established 
by the State; that Lysenko should speak of “that genius of 
biology I. V. Michurin, recognized by the Party and the 
Government and by the country ...” and declare that it is 
“false and conceited” on the part of a biologist to think that he 
could add anything to Michurin’s teachings. 

Indeed, in such circumstances there seems nothing left to 
the hard-pressed scientists but to attempt a defence in the same 
terms as used by their opponents. This is what the eminent 
geneticist Professor N. P. Doubinin apparently decided to do 
at the Conference on Genetics. His speech in defence of cyto- 
genetics refers freely to Marx, Engels and the Short Course of 
the History of the Communist Party. He reverently mentions 
Michurin, naming him as a classic next to Darwin. But in his 
view — as he explains — all these high authorities are directly 
or indirectly supporting Mendelism. “It is quite wrong,” he 
says, “to describe Mendelism by saying that its appearance 
represents a product of the imperialist development of capitalist 
society. Of course, after its appearance Mendelism was per- 
verted by bourgeois scientists. We know well the fact that all 
science is class science.” 

Such is the last stage in the collapse of science. Attackers 

1 This passage is quoted by Lysenko in his speech at the C.G.S. 1939 
from an article published by himself in Socialist Agriculture, Feb. 1939. In 
his speech Lysenko reaffirms this statement. 



and defenders are using the same spurious and often fanciful 
arguments, to enlist for their own side the support of untutored 
practitioners and of equally untutored politicians. But the 
position of the defenders is hopeless. Science cannot be saved 
on grounds which contradict its own basic principles. The 
ambitious and unscrupulous figures who rise to power on the 
tide of a movement against science, do not withdraw when 
scientists make their last abject surrender. On the contrary, 
they stay to complete their triumph by directing against their 
yielding opponents the charge of insincerity. Thus Lysenko 
says, “The Mendelian geneticists keep silent about their own 
radical disagreement with the theory of development, with the 
teaching of Michurin”, and even more jeering is the taunt 
made by Lysenko’s assistant Professor I. I. Prezent; “It is new 
to find that all of them, some more sincerely than others, all of 
them try to give the impression that with Michurin at least they 
have no quarrel .” 1 

Such taunts are unanswerable and their implications are 
shattering. They make it clear that scientists must never hope to 
save their scientific pursuits by creeping under the cloak of 
anti-scientific principles. “Verbal, formal acceptance of these 
principles” — the Chairman had sternly warned from the 
beginnning — “is not wanted ”. 2 

The demonstration given here of the corruption of a branch 
of science, caused by placing its pursuit under the direction of 
the State, seems to me complete. Particularly, as there can be 
no doubt of the unwavering desire of the Soviet Government to 
advance the progress of science. It has spent large sums on 
laboratories, on equipment and on personnel. Yet these 
subsidies, we have seen, benefited science only so long as they 
flowed into channels controlled by independent scientific 

1 Quoted by Kolbanovsky in his summary of the C.G.S., 1939. 

2 Note added in December 1949: The Conference on Genetics and 
Selection held in 1939 was followed within a year by the dismissal of Vavilov 
from the directorship of the Institute of Plant Industry. He was subsequently 
imprisoned and died, without any announcement or explanation, probably 
in 1943. (Eric Ashby, Scientist in Russia , p. m). The Conference which I 
have analysed at some length here appears to have been the last occasion on 
which Vavilov publicly defended the scientific theory of heredity. 



opinion, whereas as soon as their allocation was accompanied 
by attempts at establishing governmental direction, they 
exercised a destructive influence. 

We may hope and expect that one day the Soviet Govern- 
ment will recognize the error of such attempts; that they will 
realize, for example, that their plant-breeding stations are 
operating on lines which were abandoned as fallacious in the 
rest of the world about forty years earlier. 

What can a government do when it realizes such a state 
of affairs? What course can it then take to restore the functions 
of science? 

According to our analysis the answer cannot be in doubt. 
One thing only is necessary — but that is truly indispensable. 
All that is required is to restore the independence of 
scientific opinion — to restore fully its powers of maintaining 
scientific standards, through the selection of papers for publica- 
tion, through the selection of candidates for scientific posts, 
through the granting of scientific distinctions and in the award of 
special research subsidies; to restore to scientific opinion the 
power of controlling by its influence the publication of textbooks 
and popularizations of science, and the teaching of science in 
universities and schools ; to restore to it above all the power of 
protecting that most precious foothold of originality, the position 
of the independent scientist — who must again become sole 
master of his own research work. 

There would still be time to revive the great scientific 
tradition of Russia which, although at present distorted in many 
respects, is far from being dead. The recent great progress of 
Russian mathematics, and of many other fields in which State 
control has never been effectively applied, proves that the 
valuation of science for its own sake still lives in the U.S.S.R. 
Let scientists be free once more to expound their true ideals and 
be allowed to appeal to the Soviet peoples, asking for their 
support of science on its own grounds. Let them be free to 
expose the cranks and careerists who have infiltrated into their 
ranks since the inception of “planning”’ in 1932 and let them 
become affiliated once more to the body of international science. 

The very moment that scientists regain these freedoms, 
science will flourish again and will rise overnight, free of all the 
confusion and corruption which is now affecting it. 




However, the current of future events may well tend 
towards the very opposite course. Even in countries where 
science is still free we are experiencing to-day a weakening of 
the principles of scientific autonomy. “Science must be 
marshalled for the people” — Professor H. Levy proclaimed 
amidst applause at a popular rally of scientists in London. 1 
Fired by misguided generosity, these scientists would sacrifice 
science — forgetting that it is theirs only on trust for the pur- 
pose of cultivation, not theirs to give away and allow to perish. 

Our analysis seems to leave no doubt that if this kind of 
movement prevailed and developed further: if attempts to 
suppress the autonomy of science, such as have been made in 
Russia since 1932, became world-wide and were persisted in for 
a time, the result could only be a total destruction of science 
and of scientific life. 

1 Conference of the Association of Scientific Workers on “ The Planning 
of Science”, of January, 1943. 




The popular scientific books which I used to read as a child 
were mainly concerned with displaying the wonders of nature 
and the glorious achievements of science. They dwelt on the 
enormous distances between the stars and on the laws governing 
their motion; on the crowd of living creatures made visible in a 
drop of water under the microscope. Among the best-sellers of 
the time was Darwin’s Origin of Species and every new 
discovery throwing light on the process of evolution roused a 
wide, popular curiosity. Such were the topics and interests that 
came first to the mind in connection with science at that time. 
It was not forgotten of course that science provided also a 
store of most useful knowledge ; but this was not considered as 
its principal justification. New practical inventions like the 
electromotor or the wireless telegraph were regarded as merely 
occasional off-shoots of advancing scientific knowledge. 

To-day boys and girls who are interested in science are 
given a very different interpretation of it. They read books 
which profess that the primary function of science is to promote 
human welfare. The best-seller in the field has been for the last 
seven years Hogben’s Science for the Citizen , which was closely 
rivalled in its success by J. G. Crowther’s books, particularly 
the Social Relations of Science and the famous Social Func- 
tions of Science by J. D. Bernal . 2 These books emphatically 
oppose the view, generally accepted before, that science should 
be pursued for the sake of enlightenment, regardless of its 
practical use. They have exercised a powerful popular influence 
which has been consolidated lately by the support of important 

1 Expanded from The Political Quarterly (1945). 

a For a detailed critique of Bernal’s book see my The Contempt of 
Freedom (1940), the essay entitled “The Rights and Duties of Science”. 




organizations. It has in fact become rare to find any public 
statement to-day which would declare it clearly that the main 
purpose of science is the acquisition of knowledge for its own 
sake. Such a conception of science is still generally maintained 
by the academic profession ; but it is no exaggeration to say that 
the broader public is beginning to forget it, even though it had 
universally accepted it only fifteen years ago. 

The new radically utilitarian valuation of science rests on a 
consistent philosophical background, borrowed mainly from 
Marxism. It denies that pure science, as distinct from applied 
or technical science, can exist at all. Such a revaluation of 
science necessarily leads to a demand for the Planning of 
Science. If science is to serve the practical needs of society it 
must be properly organized for this purpose. You cannot 
expect individual scientists, each pursuing his particular 
interests, to develop science effectively towards the satisfac- 
tion of existing social needs. You must see to it therefore that 
scientists are placed under the guidance of authorities who know 
the needs of society and are generally responsible for safe- 
guarding the public interest. We are assured by its advocates 
that this form of organization is not only logical but quite 
practicable, since in Soviet Russia it has already been success- 
fully applied. It is urged that we have only to follow (in our 
own way) the Russian example. 

The plea for the planning of science is reinforced further by 
a materialistic interpretation of the history of science. In its 
light the supposed independence of scientific progress appears 
as a mere illusion. Science, it would seem, has actually always 
advanced only in response to social needs. The representatives 
of this theory have given elaborate analyses of the history of 
science, purporting to show how each step forward was socially 
determined. Thus the planning of science, they urge, would 
merely bring into the open the existing position of science and 
there could be no question of any violence done thereby to its 
spirit. The protest of those who would defend the freedom 
of science against planning is rejected and branded as an ex- 
pression of an obsolete and socially irresponsible attitude. 




I shall now examine in the light of the relevant facts the 
principal proposition which underlies the movement for the 
planning of science. Let us see whether there is or is not any 
essential difference between pure and applied science; such a 
difference as would justify and demand the separate pursuit of 
the two branches of knowledge, by different methods and under 
distinctive conditions. We shall take one characteristic field 
of pure science and one of applied science, and compare the 

As an example of pure science we take the science of mech- 
anics, the great model of all sciences through the ages. The story 
begins with Copernicus. On his deathbed 400 years ago, he 
gave to the world the first published copy of his long delayed 
work De Revolutionibus. The regular motions of the planets 
had been observed and mapped out for thousands of years 
before, as a pattern of wheels within wheels, of cycles and 
epicycles. Copernicus showed that most of these complications 
were due to the awkward position from which the heavenly 
events were observed. He now pictured the sun centrally with 
the six hitherto known planets surrounding it in circular orbits. 
This simpler picture was of striking beauty and carried great 
powers of conviction. 

Copernicus, the Pole, was followed by the German Kepler, 
who took his stand on the Copernican system, but broke the 
spell of the cycles and epicycles which had survived in it. 
Kepler denied these ancient harmonies and established in their 
place three laws which still bear his name. The planets, he said, 
move along elliptic orbits, having the sun in one of their foci, in 
such a fashion that the line drawn from the planet to the sun 
sweeps out equal areas in equal times and the squares of the 
periods of planetary revolutions are proportional to the cubes 
of the planetary distances. These laws foreshadowed the work of 
Newton. But before Newton could set to work, yet another 
giant step had to be accomplished by the Florentine, Galileo. 
He made experiments on falling bodies and found that objects 
of different weight fall at the same rate. He was the first to 
formulate such results in mathematical terms. Galileo and 
Kepler mutually encouraged each other by correspondence; 


7 1 

but they did not remotely surmise that the laws which each had 
discovered in his own field, one on earth and the other in the 
skies, were really identical. They were both dead long before 
this was discovered by Newton. 

An entire century had passed since the death of Copernicus 
before Newton was born and forty-five years of his life elapsed 
before he published the Prindpia , the book which first brought 
the whole universe under the rule of one mathematical law. 
From the falling of the stone on earth it predicted the revolutions 
of the moon and went on to derive all the laws which Kepler 
established for the planets. This discovery completed the 
intellectual progress started by Copernicus 150 years earlier. 
To the medieval view the universe had been a place just large 
enough to allow comfortable space for our Earth, with a dome 
of stars serving as a lid, or shell, at a suitable distance around it. 
This cosy shelter of man was now destroyed. He and his Earth 
were thrown out of the centre of things and relegated to an 
obscure peripheric position; the Earth, reduced to a mere 
roaming speck, plunged into an infinite emptiness. At the same 
time man’s immediate surroundings were subordinated to the 
mathematical laws governing a universe of stars. 

Thus Newton radically transformed the outlook of man and 
people felt that through him science had unravelled the 
mystery of the universe. High honours were given to him, and 
at his death he was buried in Westminster, with great peers of 
the realm as his pall-bearers. His college in Cambridge erected 
a statue with the inscription “Newton qui ingenio humanam 
gentem superavit” (“Newton who mentally surpassed the 
human race”). The writers of the French Enlightenment, in- 
cluding Voltaire himself, were prompted to produce popular 
presentations of Newton’s theory for the Continental public. 
Far beyond the borders of science Newton’s discovery deter- 
mined the method in all departments of thought. Thinkers from 
Rousseau to Marx and Herbert Spencer dreamed of discovering 
some master formula governing human matters, as Newton’s 
laws governed the material universe. 

Meanwhile the rigorous scientific evaluation of Newton’s 
laws progressed apace. For a hundred years after Newton’s 
death the greatest mathematicians of the time were engaged in 
recasting Newton’s laws. D’Alembert, Lagrange, Maupertuis, 


Laplace, Hamilton, each in his turn revealed further the depth 
and beauty of these laws and added to their powers to solve a 
variety of problems. 

Yet, looking back to-day, all this seems only the beginning. 
Vast discoveries were to follow, destined to be born to our 
own century. One of their main starting-points was a compara- 
tively slight observation on the light emitted by discharge tubes 
such as are used in neon signs. Its analysis showed a remarkably 
regular assortment of colours. Towards the end of the last 
century a set of most curious numerical laws governing the 
wavelength of these colours was discovered by the Swiss 
physicist, Ritz. So striking were these laws, and seemingly so 
full of hidden significance, that the German physicist, Runge, 
was heard to exclaim about Ritz: “May I but live to see the 
Newton who will follow this Kepler !” Runge’s desire was ful- 
filled by the advent in his lifetime of Max Planck (1900) and 
Niels Bohr (1912). In their hands and those of their successors 
a new form of mechanics took shape which included atomic 
processes. Through this advance, the science of mechanics 
extended its control right into the internal machinery of the 
atom: predicting colour and cohesion, mechanical resistance 
and electrical conductivity, it penetrated to the very essence of 
distinctive chemical properties. 

Nor was that all; for about the same time yet another great 
transformation of mechanics took its origin in Einstein’s new 
conception of space and time. Formulated in these new terms 
the laws of mechanics are further unified. Newton’s laws of 
gravitation and his laws of motion were merged in one concep- 
tion, which had come to include also the laws of electric forces 
discovered in the middle of the foregoing century by Maxwell. 
A wealth of detailed conclusions has since been drawn from the 
new mechanics, which will go on moulding our outlook on the 
universe for generations yet to come, as Newton’s discovery did 

Let us now glance briefly at a counter-example in the field 
of engineering or applied science. Take a field like artificial 
lighting, in which the application of science has lately been 
particularly effective. Primitive lighting was based on candles, 
torches and oil-lamps. At the beginning of the last century 
paraffin-lamps were introduced — which Goethe described as of 



dazzling brightness. Then came coal-gas with burners of 
various types, culminating in the incandescent mantle, which 
spread its yellow light over the supper table of my childhood. 
Electricity started with the arc-lamp, burning in the open air 
between poles made of graphite; soon to be superseded by 
Edison’s great invention, the enclosed incandescent lamp. 
A little later came — as an attempt to revert to the open air — 
the “Nernst-burner” of great, though brief and now forgotten 
fame. And just before the war we saw the rapid advance of 
discharge lamps, like the mercury and sodium lamp, particularly 
for street lighting. We may find these in future displacing the 
incandescent lamp in most of its uses. And — making a guess into 
the more remote future — we may surmise that some time a new 
form of lighting, illuminating perhaps the whole countryside, 
may become possible through the use of artificial radioactivity. 

Such is in brief outline the history of a great branch of 
scientific engineering. Let us see whether we can distinguish 
any radical difference between this and the development of a 
branch of pure science, described before. In doing so, we must 
eliminate all individual preferences : giving as warm an admira- 
tion to the ingenuity of inventions (say of the gas-mantle) as 
we do to an outstanding discovery in science (say in mechanics). 
There must be no question of the comparative values of pure 
and applied science; only of the fact whether the two are or 
are not essentially different intellectual activities. 

On this point the above analysis can hardly leave room for 
hesitation. While the scientific method plays a part in both, the 
purpose pursued and the results achieved in the two cases are 
easily distinguishable. The intellectual events which start with 
Copernicus and end with Einstein form a process of continued 
penetration into the nature of things. It forms a series of dis- 
coveries into the laws of nature, ever widening in scope and 
delving ever further into greater depths. The history of lighting, 
on the other hand, teaches us little or nothing about the laws 
of nature. Occasionally the invention of new sources of light has 
led to very interesting observations. The development of gas 
lighting has taught us some new facts about the formation of 
coal-gas, and the lamp industry has contributed to our know- 
ledge of tungsten at high temperatures. But these minor 
discoveries were clearly incidental to the main purpose of the 



lighting industry, which continued to be the production of 
ever cheaper and more convenient sources of light. Illumination 
as a branch of engineering would have been none the less 
successful had it led to no discoveries whatever on the nature 
of things. 

Turning to pure science, on the other hand, we find 
exactly the opposite conditions. The development of astronomy 
and mechanics from Copernicus to Einstein has admittedly 
resulted in innumerable practical advances ; in fact there is no 
end to the occasions on which a knowledge of mechanics, both 
terrestrial and celestial, has proved useful to various crafts. 
But in this case the practical results were merely incidental to 
the overriding purpose of advancing knowledge. The science of 
mechanics would still be what it is, even though it had borne 
no practical fruits, and would count no less as a chapter of 

The distinction between technology and pure science can 
be sharply defined by economic criteria. Applied science 
teaches how to produce practical advantages by the use of 
material resources. But there is a limit to the urgency of any 
particular practical advantage and a limit to the abundance of 
any particular resources. No technology can remain valid in the 
face of a sharp drop in the demand for its produce or a 
steep fall in the supply of its raw materials. Once it turns 
out goods that are of less value than the materials used up, 
the process becomes technically nonsensical. An invention 
designed to produce practical disadvantages cannot be regarded 
as an invention, either in the light of common sense or in the 
eyes of patent law. Pure science, on the other hand, cannot be 
affected in its validity by variations of supply or demand. The 
interest of one branch or another may thereby be altered 
slightly, but no particle of science will be invalidated : nothing 
will become nonsensical that was true before — nor the reverse. 

This contrast between pure and applied science involves 
a profound difference in the logical structure of the two fields. 
The progress of mechanics, of which I have given an outline, 
through four centuries can be seen to go on continuing on the 
lines of the same basic ideas. Each new phase re-states that 
which was known before and reveals that its predecessor was 
the embryo of a truth wider and deeper than itself. We are 



faced with a persistent unfolding of thought by logical stages. 
Technology progresses differently. Lighting is constantly 
made cheaper and pleasanter. To that extent the development 
is also consistent and continuous. But logically each forward 
step represents a new departure. There are no principles, unless 
the most trivial ones, which are common to the candle, the gas- 
burner and the incandescent lamp. Even between the four forms 
of electric lighting there is hardly a connecting thread of 
thought. Each new improved form of illumination simply dis- 
places its predecessor. Instead of the development of a single 
principle, we see a series of logically disconnected attempts to 
serve a steady purpose. 

This contrast in the logical structure of pure and applied 
science determines the difference in the proper conditions for 
the cultivation of each. Scientific work can progress logically 
only if guided by systematic principles. Here is the reason for 
the academic seclusion of science. A system of thought can be 
advanced only in the midst of a community which is thoroughly 
imbued with its understanding, which is both responsive and 
critical, and passionately devoted to the subject. Academic 
seclusion fostering a scientific atmosphere represents therefore 
an indispensable framework for a single-minded application to 
systematic science. There is room, no doubt, for reform in the 
existing organization of science, but the academic conditions 
required for its cultivation, rooted in the systematic nature of 
science, must be preserved. 

Turning now to technological research, we again find that 
the nature of the task clearly determines the proper conditions 
under which it has to be pursued. There are many classes of 
inventions and technical improvements, but in no case has the 
inventor to immerse himself entirely in one branch of scientific 
knowledge, while it is indispensable that he should remain 
intensely aware of a certain set of practical circumstances. An 
inventor who lacks a keen sense of practical profitability will 
produce inventions which work only on paper. That is why 
inventions do not thrive on academic soil. Admittedly, some 
branches of engineering which have a systematic structure can 
be cultivated at universities and engineering science, understood 
in that sense, rightly relies for its advancement on technical 
schools and other academic institutions. But a far greater part 



of applied science consists of more or less disjointed solutions 
to problems which can be properly sensed and appreciated only 
by those struggling daily in the dust and heat of practical life. 

Thus we come back to the plain truth which had long 
been known, before the great modem enlightenment succeeded 
in obscuring it: namely, that there exists pure science and 
applied science , quite distinct in nature and in conditions of 
cultivation; the first finding its home on academic soil, the 
second in the factories and other quarters closely attached to 
practical life. 

The Planning of Science is supposed to conduct the pursuit 
of pure science towards discoveries which will be useful when 
applied to practical problems. That is in general impossible. 
Pure science has its own inherent aims and could embrace 
different aims only by ceasing to be what it is. It would have 
to discontinue the pursuit known to-day by the word “science” 
and substitute for it some other activity, which would not 
be science. 

What would the new kind of “science” be like? Is it at all 
possible to pursue the discovery of new facts in nature with a 
mind to their prospective use for the solution of definite practical 
problems? Yes, in certain cases. It is a common practice in 
modern industry to make systematic studies of various materials 
in order to manufacture from them particular pieces of equip- 
ment. New drugs against diseases or pests are tried out in a 
similar fashion. There are various other cases in medicine, 
agriculture, mining, metallurgy, etc., where scientific investiga- 
tions of a fairly high order can be conducted with a view to a 
definite practical application. But all these fields represent only 
a tiny fraction of the actual progress currently made by science 
and a planned science limited to investigations of this kind 
would therefore be a mere vestige of what science represents 

We can speak here from experience. Institutions are by 
no means lacking which have the task of pursuing scientific 
research of definite practical importance. There are the 
Research Associations investigating problems relevant to the 


various industries, such as cotton, coal, steel, glass and others. 
There are the institutions for agricultural and military research 
and the industrial research laboratories of private firms. In 
Britain, as in most other industrial countries, about the same 
amount is spent on this kind of research as on academic research. 
Yet the contributions thus made to science are very small. I 
doubt whether as much as one per cent, of the material which is 
being added annually to the textbooks of physics and chemistry, 
mathematics, botany and zoology, has its origin from investiga- 
tions which were pursued with a view to their interest to some 
industry or other practical concern. To plan science within such 
limits would be simply to kill science. 

Convinced believers in planning who realize these facts 
sometimes try to uphold their principles by pointing at the 
existing control of science. They point out that state grants for 
universities are fixed by legislative decision, and that the 
distribution of grants between the different branches of science 
is effected in the universities in the light of public responsibility. 
But the former decision merely adjusts the level of all scientific 
activities; while the latter only guides the resources thus allo- 
cated towards the points at which science is showing the 
strongest signs of spontaneous growth . 1 Only the total extent 
of the scientific effort is affected here, while its direction is left 
to follow freely the tendencies inherent in science. 

Alternatively, convinced planners of science may try to 
save their principles by limiting their proposals to a very 
general and slight preference for certain directions of scientific 
research, and they may even add the promise that this would 
involve no reduction in any research pursued on other than the 
preferred lines. As an answer to the first point, we note that 
an extraneous direction of science is mischievous precisely to 
the extent to which it is effective. It is no excuse for doing a 
perverse action on a small scale that the consequent damage is 
correspondingly small ; it is less harmful to cut off a finger than 
a whole arm, but this does not justify the act. And as regards 
the promise that planning would leave unplanned activities 
unaffected, this is altogether specious. The mental and material 
resources of society cannot be both directed into new channels 
and left to flow into the old ones. The virtual cessation in 

1 Comp. p. 54 above. 


wartime of progress in pure science, through the necessary 
diversion of scientific resources to defence work, has demon- 
strated this clearly enough. 


But how about the argument of historical materialism, 
insisting that the development of science can be represented at 
every step as a response to social needs? Take the widespread 
theory that Newton’s work on gravitation arose in response to 
the expanding maritime interests of Britain . 1 Its expounders 
make no attempt to discover the maritime interests which 
stimulated the Pole Copernicus in Heilsberg, or the German 
Kepler in Prague, or the Florentine Galileo to labour during a 
century before Newton in laying down the foundations for his 
work. Nor do they pay attention to the overwhelming response 
given to Newton in countries, such as Switzerland and Prussia, 
not in the least interested in maritime problems. Swayed by an 
overriding materialistic prejudice, they never attempt to apply 
even the most elementary rules of critical thought. 

Nevertheless, the idea that the direction in which science 
progresses is distinctly affected by the prevailing material needs, 
has become widely accepted even among people far remote from 
the Marxist camp. I want to place here on record, therefore, 
a more detailed refutation of some prominent statements from 
which this mode of thought has taken its origin. 

The argument consists mainly in spotlighting the various 
connections of science with society, the personal reasons for 
which scientific work is undertaken, the materials required 
for its pursuit, the effects — whether good or bad — which result 
from it, while the inherent logic for scientific progress is left 
in the dark. Thus J. G. Crowther in The Social Relations of 
Science extensively scrutinizes the incomes of people who do 
or do not take up science. We learn that often people are too 
poor to be concerned with science and that in other cases they 
are too rich to trouble about it. Plato, for example, was rich 

1 Thus J. G. Crowther, The Social Relations of Science (1941), p. 391: 
“The Principia may be regarded, to a large extent, as a theoretical synthesis 
of the problems set in gravity, circular motion, planetary and lunar move- 
ment, and the shape and size of the earth by the demand for better naviga- 
tion.* * 



and despised science, 1 and ever since rich people tend to follow 
him. 2 Very often it is, on the contrary, great wealth that pro- 
motes scientific interest, just as the right sort of poverty may 
do it. 3 

Such considerations are misleading, unless taken in a 
sense in which they are obvious and irrelevant. Whether a 
person can and will become a scientist or not clearly depends to 
some extent on his income and private circumstances. But once 
he has become a scientist, his results do not depend on his 
personal circumstances. The principle of Conservation of 
Energy was discovered independently by a cranky South 
German doctor (J. R. Mayer), a reputable beer-brewer in 
Manchester (Joule) and a young Prussian scientist (H. von 
Helmholtz). The three living co-discoverers of quantum 
mechanics (an Austrian, a Prussian and an Englishman) make 
an equally ill-assorted triplet. The greatest advance in physics 
made in Russia during the past twenty-five years was the 
observation in 1928 of a new form of optical scattering by the 
Soviet physicist Landsberg. The same discovery was made a 
few weeks earlier by C. V. Raman, a native and inhabitant of 
British India, who, in view of his priority, received the Nobel 
prize for this piece of work. He had, however, to share some of 
the credit with the Viennese physicist — sometime an ardent Nazi 
— A. Smekal, who predicted the effect a few years earlier. It is 
difficult to find three people as different in personality and 
social setting as Landsberg, Raman and Smekal, yet their work 
in science is essentially identical. 

Science is again submerged in extraneous matters when the 
practical interest of society is emphasized to the point at which 
it appears that science itself is guided by that interest. The 

1 Ibid., pp. 66-67. 

2 p. 125, Platonism the carrier of anti-scientific snobbery in Roman 
times; p. 279, it becomes the philosophy of the ruling bankers of the 
Renaissance ; p. 578, it is the first sketch of the philosophy of modern Fascism. 

3 p. 1 1 6, the Romans were too rich to advance science; p. 160, so were 
the Moslems; p. 592, the French people after 1918 were also too rich; 
p. 552, Russian Academy before the Soviet Revolution misguided by wealth. 
On the other hand (p. 208) great wealth was helpful to Roger Bacon’s 
scientific work; and also (p. 358) to Guericke’s: and (p. 369) to Boyle’s, and 
— in general — the status of a gentleman of leisure was the economic condi- 
tion for scientific excellence throughout thfe Middle Ages (p. 239) and in 
sixteenth and seventeenth century England (p. 384). On the other hand, 
medieval society was too poor for the advancement of science (p. 222), while 
the Roman slaves were just prosperous enough for its pursuit (p. 1 13). 



obvious fact that, with the exception of very few cases, no one 
can tell at the time of a discovery what its future practical 
applications will be; and that these applications are known 
least of all to the discoverer, whose knowledge of technology is 
mostly slight — all this is overcome by the assumption that 
social needs compel discoveries which scientists believe to flow 
from the internal logic of scientific development. Thus they are 
supposed unconsciously to follow a practical purpose of which 
they are themselves unaware. Crowther explains, for example, 
the course taken by Clerk-Maxwell when embarking (around 
1855) on his studies of the theory of gases and of the electric 
field, as follows: 

“Mercantilism had surrendered the initiative to industrialism, 
and navigation gave place to the steam engine and the telegraph. 
In parallel with this social movement, mathematical astronomy 
gave place to heat and electricity. . . Maxwell's reform appeared to 
him mainly as a transfer of attention to those parts of science that 
seemed most promising of important discovery. He did not in- 
quire why heat and electricity appeared to him more promising 
than astronomy. It was sufficient that he knew that they were so. 
History has entirely confirmed Maxwell’s opinion, though he 
regarded it as self-evident. It is possible now to see that he was an 
intellectual instrument of a development determined by the main 
social forces of his time, while his choice of studies appeared to 
himself to be determined by the logic of their own development .” 1 

Mr. Crowther’s theory of Maxwell’s position in the midst 
of the industrial interests surrounding him is up to a point 
analogous to the well-known type of demagogical construction: 
“The Jews desire Hitler’s fall; Churchill fights Hitler; hence 
Churchill is the tool of the Jews.” The difference is only that 
Mr. Crowther’s construction contains one more element of 
magical reasoning. In his argument there is no question of the 
tool (Maxwell) being actually intent on promoting the interests 
in question; it is admitted that he was not aware of future 
practical applications of his work. Thus Maxwell becomes an 
unconscious tool of interests, to which he was admittedly in- 
different, in the pursuit of future results, of which he was 
admittedly ignorant. Such constructions gain strength in the 
eyes of their believers from the very fact of their absurdity; 

1 J. G. Crowther, loc. cit., p. 453. 


for the absence of tangible reality is taken to prove the presence 
of a profound, hidden principle of “social determinism”. 

A common manifestation of the same fallacious intellectual 
instinct, which Mr. Crowther utilizes in this argument, appears 
in the irresistible habit of the beginner — so often reproved in 
schools — to “write history backwards”. The novice keeps 
reconstructing the minds of people at an earlier period of time 
as if they could have known the events which followed in a 
later period. It requires a trained effort of the imagination to 
avoid infusing the minds of historic characters with a fore- 
knowledge of their own future, which forms an integral part of 
our present conception of them. 

The writing of history backwards is a standard method for 
proving the magic powers of social needs in directing the 
discoveries of scientists. Professor Hogben applies it as follows 
to the case of Maxwell : 

. . in Maxwell's treatise the Newtonian mathematics of the 
older universities was linked to the experimental measurements 
made by Faraday and Henry in extra-mural foundations, such as 
the Royal and Smithsonian Institutions. As with the form, so it 
was with the substance. From the beginnings of practical tele- 
graphy the possibility of propagating electrical phenomena 
through space without the aid of conducting material in the 
ordinary sense continually prompted speculation and experiment. 
In the adventurous hopefulness of nineteenth-century industrial- 
ism, telegraphy without wires was the philosopher’s stone and 
the elixir of youth. Thus far, telegraphic communication was the 
most spectacular achievement of science. As such it received its 
full share of recognition in the Great Exhibition which coincided 
with the Atlantic Cable venture. Two years later — in 1853 — 
Dering, an inventor whose electrical appliances received an 
honourable place among the exhibits, referred to ‘the craving 
there is at present for wireless telegraphs’. This was the year in 
which Maxwell became second wrangler.” 1 

Fantastic exaggerations (“philosopher’s stone”, “elixir of 
youth”), referring to a problem which it would be more correct 
to describe as an obscure one at the time in question , 2 together 

1 Science for the Citizen , p. 737. , 

8 The urgent need of wireless transmission arose, according to Professor 
Hogben, from a burning desire to save the cost of telegraphic cables. The 
actual state of affairs can be assessed as follows. Owing to various technical 
difficulties, wireless transmission has never superseded cable telegraphy. 
On the land the use of cable remains uncontested and the competition 



with other colourful stage settings, thus endow the method of 
writing history backwards with irresistible power; in particular 
when the subject is one known to few, and the writings are 
addressed to the general public in combination with a political 
message which they convey. 

To make the position thus established impregnable, it is 
only necessary to keep it sufficiently obscure. Strictly speaking 
no definite statement whatever has been made above by Professor 
Hogben about the reasons that led Maxwell to develop the 
theory of electromagnetic waves, which about half a century 
later contributed to the invention of wireless telegraphy. At 
least none that would go beyond the commonly held and rather 
irrelevant opinion, that the study of electricity in the nineteenth 
century gained added interest from its wide practical applica- 
tions. Yet the force of indirect suggestion in Professor Hogben’s 
quoted passage is so strong that he can use it to prove his attack 
— made on the page before — on the view generally accepted in 
previous literature, that Maxwell “laboured for knowledge 
alone’ * and was justified in doing so. This — we are told by 
Professor Hogben — is nothing but an “arrogant pretence” of 

The remarkable fact that this new theory of science is 
always demonstrated by examples of a comparatively remote 
past, in the midst of our century possessing unparalleled scientific 
achievements of its own , can be understood from the above 
analysis. The practical applications of recent discoveries are not 
yet known, so that in their case history cannot yet be written 
backwards* What technical inventions were the discoveries 
of the Nobel Laureates Planck, Einstein, Perrin, Millikan, 

between wireless and cable for overseas telegraphy is yet undecided. This 
fact, far from moving all scientific speculations of our time, remains un- 
mentioned even by the author of Science for the Citizen , who takes such 
particular interest in the problem. 

The real importance of wireless transmission (apart from its more recent 
application to broadcasting) has obviously been in the field of navigation — 
the supposed loss of interest in which is thought (by Mr. Crowther) to have 
turned Maxwell’s mind from astronomy to electric waves. Actually, to-day, 
this country depends for its very life on navigation; and this dependence 
arose precisely in the decades after the repeal of the Corn Laws: in Maxwell’s 
time. Thus a flippant critic might suggest that the theory of social deter- 
minism has proved right after all — only that Maxwell’s response was not to 
the decline, but rather to the sudden increase in the national significance of 



Michelson, Rutherford, Aston, Chadwick, Barkla, Heisenberg, 
Compton, Franck, G. Hertz, Rubens, Laue, Joliot, Fermi, 
Urey, Anderson, W. H. and W. L. Bragg, Schrodinger, 
Dirac, etc., unconsciously intended to produce ? No one can 
tell — so the new theory of science must pass them over. 

One wonders how the great physicists in the list above 
would have fared if, before embarking on their investigation, 
they had had to get a certificate of its social usefulness from a 
scientific directorate, as contemplated by Marxist scientists 
and their friends. To what conflicts may not have led their 
“arrogant pretence” to be sole judges of their own preference! 


But we are told that the planning of science is actually in 
successful operation in the Soviet Union. What is the truth in 
this matter? How does the planning of science operate in the 
Soviet Union? Briefly, the position is this. There have been 
set up in Russia rather extensive laboratories for applied 
research. Their purpose is to promote various forms of practical 
science on lines similar to those followed by their counterparts 
in Britain, America, etc. There is nothing distinctive about 
these activities except the idea of calling them “planned 
science”. To this, however, we must add a somewhat more 
serious feature. There is a good deal of talk in Russia about 
detailed plans for research in each laboratory, and also about the 
planning of pure research with a view to the benefit of industry. 
Fortunately this “planning” has remained almost entirely on 
paper. It is true that you may read descriptions such as that by 
Mr. J. G. Crowther on the planning of scientific work in the 
laboratory of Physics in Kharkov: “Each department [says 
Crowther] draws up a plan for work from January 1st to 
December 31st of each year. The plan is given in detail for 
each quarter, and there must even be a suggestion of what will 
be done each day. At the end of each month the research 
worker assesses what percentage he has accomplished of his 
plan. This is usually about 80 per cent, to 90 per cent., and the 
assessments are notably honest” 1 (which is about as reasonable 
as planning a test match by fixing in advance the scores of each 
1 Manchester Guardian Commercial , 2nd June, 1934. 



player on both sides). But the truth in such cases is merely that 
the Soviet scientists were made to fill in a lot of meaningless 
forms. Even though in a number of instances (particularly in 
psychology and in genetics) there has been some serious 
interference with the integrity of science, a good deal of 
scientific research continues to be done in Russia in exactly 
the same way as everywhere else. Research continues to 
advance on the lines of the universal system of science and 
the Russian pieces fit in with the British, the Swiss and the 
Japanese pieces, as well as with other pieces from all over the 

Recently, evidence has reached us that Soviet scientists 
are trying to shake off the imposition of Marxist theories on 
the valuation and organization of science. In an important 
speech made in 1943 to the Presidium of the Soviet Academy, 
Academician Kapitza advocated that each research institute 
of the Academy should be devoted to a particular branch of 
what he called “great science”, but what from the context 
clearly appears to be our old friend, fundamental or pure 
science. 1 Research (we are told) should be conducted with a 
view to the best success that can be achieved in its own branch 
of science. “The direction in which the institute develops must 
correspond to that direction of this science which is most 
promising at the moment, and which, taking into consideration 
the present state of science and the methodological possibilities, 
has the widest prospects for rapid and fruitful progress.” That 
is exactly the way systematic science has advanced in the past 
everywhere. Science, Kapitza declares accordingly, forms a 
unity all over the world in all countries, regardless, it would 
seem, of their social system of production. And as regards the 
relations of pure science to applied science he says that “ ... it 
is not right to insist that a scientist should seek the application 
of his scientific work to industry”. As regards planning, he 
demands that “ . . . a scientific institute should have a very 
flexible organization. Indeed, in the course of creative work it is 
difficult to look even one month ahead, let alone a year”. 
Kapitza’s speech was greeted by his distinguished audience with 

1 I am indebted to the Society for the Cultural Relations with the 
U.S.S.R., for the loan of a detailed report of this meeting. A brief extract 
appeared in Nature , vol. 155 (1945), p. 294. 


signs of relief and broad approval ; it is clear that a new departure 
was made at this meeting . 1 

Thus the new strictly utilitarian valuation of science and the 
attempt at planning science may be abandoned in the country 
of their first origin. It seems possible also that the movement in 
Britain which has run parallel to the earlier tendencies ot 
Soviet Russia will then be gradually slackened. In fact, the 
recent utterances of the usual advocates of planned science show 
definite signs in this direction. 

Shall we, then, regard the whole interlude as virtually 
closed and expect the position of science to return in effect to 
what it was before? I hardly think so. The extravagant idea of 
subordinating science to the planning of welfare has formed but 
one part of a general attack on the status of intellectual and moral 
life. There are a number of important movements to-day 
denying the ultimate reality of rational and moral processes. A 
vast force of naturalistic prejudice is relentlessly attacking the 
conception of man as an essentially rational being. 

In this milieu, science as a pure search for truth can hardly 
be expected to regain the respect which it previously enjoyed. 
While such forces prevail, society is unlikely to regard itself as 
dedicated to the continued cultivation of an intellectual 
heritage, to which each generation can add but little. On the 
contrary, the tendency will remain for the State to claim ultimate 
responsibility for every activity affecting the welfare of its 
citizens, including the progress of science. I see no reason to 
assume that the crisis of our civilization evoked by this funda- 
mental tendency has as yet reached its ultimate climax. 

1 At the date of collecting my essays into this volume (November 1949) 
it appears that the expectations raised by Kapitza*s speech never materialized. 
Instead, references to Kapitza have gradually vanished from the Soviet 
press and for the past three years or so he has completely disappeared from 
the public eye. The brief relaxation of Marxist policy was followed by a 
rapidly increasing harshness of its application up to the present day. 


This age of ours has had its great revolutionary movements, 
but it also staged some strange wild-goose chases. About ten 
years ago there suddenly arose in Britain a movement for the 
planning of science. The books which spread this new doctrine 
became best-sellers and they attracted a great number of 
followers. Their forces foregathered in a new division of the 
British Association founded in 1938. The movement penetrated 
widely into the masses of scientifically trained people through the 
Association of Scientific Workers which expanded under this 
impetus to a membership of over 15,000. In January 1943 
the Association held a crowded conference in London which was 
presided over by Sir Robert Watson Watt, and filled the 
Caxton Hall to overflowing. Sponsors and speakers included 
some of the most eminent scientists in Britain. It was taken for 
granted from the start that all scientific work must be integrated 
under the guidance of planning boards on the model of those 
established in wartime. Speaker after speaker condemned in 
angry and sweeping terms the traditional modes of conducting 
scientific activities, and a detailed description of Russian plan- 
ning went uncriticized. Professor Bernal declared that in the 
wartime organization of science “we had learned for the first 
time how to carry on scientific work rapidly and effectively”. 

No opposing voices were heard at the conference, and anti- 
planners were castigated as people agitating for anarchy and 
ignorance. It really seemed that in Britain the movement for the 
planning of science was rushing forward irresistibly to victory. 
And yet to-day one can hardly remember what it was all about. 
The demand for a central planning of science is almost forgotten. 
The books which started the movement for planning are still 
read, but their message is no longer taken seriously. The 
movement has petered out, leaving hardly a trace. If you 
1 Broadcast, Sept., 1948 



compare for example the post-war development of scientific 
organization in Britain with that of America, where there has 
never been a planning movement, there is no difference that 
could be ascribed to the movement for planning. In the univer- 
sities of both countries scientific research continues substantially 
on traditional lines. 

The whole curious interlude could, in fact, be now forgotten 
and left for the future historian to ponder on, but for two vital 
reasons: first, there is the fact that our fellow-scientists in 
Russia have still to submit to regimentation by planning, or at 
least have to waste their time and surrender the dignity of their 
calling by pretending to submit to it. Worse still, they remain 
constantly in danger of falling victim to the machinations of 
political careerists: men who gain influence in science by pre- 
tending to be the fulfillers of Marxism and who may at any 
moment direct against their fellow-scientists the deadly shafts 
of Marxian suspicion and Marxian invective. The fate of 
Vavilov and of his many collaborators who succumbed to the 
“planning of science’’ as exercised by Lysenko, can never be 
absent from the thoughts of any Russian scientist. It falls to us 
to fight the false and oppressive doctrine forced upon our 
Russian colleagues, which, even while they are bitterly suffer- 
ing under it, they are compelled to support in public. 

And then, though the movement for the planning of science 
has been without effect in Britain, it remains no less a disturbing 
symptom of the instability of our days. It should remind us that 
in this present revolutionary period, no great institution can take 
its own continued acceptance for granted, for even the most 
ancient and well-founded claims are at such times in danger of 
going by default if left undefended. Before the controversy 
over the planning of science, there had been little attempt made 
to examine closely either the principles by which scientific 
progress is achieved, or the policies which have customarily 
guided the organization of science. Now that we have had our 
warning, we must clearly recognize where we stand in these 
matters. Henceforth we must be able to declare explicitly what 
our fundamental principles are and to vindicate them in the 
face of new problems and new hostile doctrines. 

The traditional claim that scientific research can be effec- 
tively pursued only by independent scientists can be traced 



back to the earliest statement of freedom of thought by Milton 
in his Areopagitica . Yet the belief that science can prosper only 
in freedom may seem to conflict with the accepted definition of 
science as systematic knowledge. How can a structure which 
claims to be systematic prosper from additions made by 
individuals without any central guidance? Suppose we started 
building a house without any plans, each workman adding his 
part according to his own ideas, using whatever materials he 
preferred, putting in bricks or timber, lead pipes or floorboards 
as he thought fit. Surely the result would be a hopeless confusion. 

If science really does prosper by allowing each scientist 
to follow his own bent, the systematic structure of science must 
differ fundamentally from that which underlies the structure of a 
house. And this is quite true. The nature of scientific systems is 
more akin to the ordered arrangement of living cells which 
constitute a polycellular organism. The progress of science 
through the individual efforts of independent scientists is 
comparable in many ways to the growth of a higher organism 
from a single microscopic germ-cell. Throughout the process 
of embryonic development each cell pursues its own life, and 
yet each so adjusts its growth to that of its neighbours that a 
harmonious structure of the aggregate emerges. This is exactly 
how scientists co-operate: by continually adjusting their line 
of research to the results achieved up to date by their fellow- 

However, just as science cannot be planned by men as 
they plan a house, neither do scientists form part of science in 
the way cells form part of an organism. The actual situation, 
which lies somewhere between the two, may perhaps be better 
pictured by using Milton’s simile, which likens truth to a 
shattered statue, with fragments lying widely scattered and 
hidden in many places. Each scientist on his own initiative 
pursues independently the task of finding one fragment of 
the statue and fitting it to those collected by others. This 
explains well enough the manner in which free scientists 
jointly pursue a single systematic purpose. 

But there is another feature of science which is of great 
importance for its correct organization and does not fit in 
so readily with this picture. The progressive stages of scientific 
knowledge have a deceptive completeness which makes them 


resemble more the developing shapes of a growing organism 
than the mutilated forms of an incomplete statue. If we pieced 
together a statue and there was no head to it, we should feel sure 
that it was yet incomplete. But science in its progress does not 
appear obviously incomplete even though large parts of it may 
still be missing. Physics as it stood half a century ago, though 
lacking quantum theory and relativity, and ignorant of elec- 
trons and radioactivity, was yet thought at the time to be 
essentially complete; and not only by laymen, but also by the 
scientific authorities of the time. To illustrate the growth of 
science we must imagine a statue which, while it is being pieced 
together, appears complete at every successive stage. And we 
may add that it would also appear to change its meaning on the 
addition of every successive fragment — to the great and ever 
renewed surprise of the bystanders. 

And here indeed emerges the decisive reason for indivi- 
dualism in the cultivation of science. No committee of scientists, 
however distinguished, could forecast the further progress of 
science except for the routine extension of the existing system. 
No important scientific advance could ever be foretold by such 
a committee. The problems allocated by it would therefore be 
of no real scientific value. They would either be devoid of 
originality, or if, throwing prudence to the winds, the committee 
once ventured on some really novel proposals, their suggestions 
would invariably prove impracticable. For the points at which 
the existing system of science can be effectively amended reveal 
themselves only to the individual investigator. And even he can 
discover only through a lifelong concentration on one particular 
aspect of science a small number of practicable and really 
worth-while problems. 

The pursuit of science can be organized, therefore, in no 
other manner than by granting complete independence to all 
mature scientists. They will then distribute themselves over the 
whole field of possible discoveries, each applying his own 
special ability to the task that appears most profitable to him. 
Thus as many trails as possible will be covered, and science 
will penetrate most rapidly in every direction towards that 
kind of hidden knowledge which is unsuspected by all 
but its discoverer, the kind of new knowledge on which the 
progress of science truly depends. The function of public 



authorities is not to plan research, but only to provide oppor- 
tunities for its pursuit. All that they have to do is to provide 
facilities for every good scientist to follow his own interests in 
science. To do less is to neglect the progress of science; to do 
more is to cultivate mediocrity and waste public money. Such 
principles have in fact essentially guided all well-conducted 
universities throughout the modern age. 

Apart from opportunities for research, there must be 
facilities for the publication of new discoveries; or, more 
precisely, of all claims to new discoveries. That involves a 
problem. We must guard against cranks and frauds, and also 
keep out ordinary blunderers, if scientific journals are not to 
spread confusion. Yet the work of pioneers which at first sight 
may look unsound and sometimes even crazy, must not be 
excluded. Similar problems have to be met in the selection of 
personnel for scientific appointments and in the allocation of 
funds. Herein lies the vital control of scientific life. The res- 
ponsibility for operating it rests, ultimately, with organized 
scientific opinion. It has to act as a policeman the year round and 
yet ever remain on the alert, to offer its help to the true revolu- 
tionary — the creative breaker of the law. To guard scientific 
standards, while assuring full scope to new heterodox talent, is 
the function of scientific opinion. For this it needs humility in 
the service of science. But it must also take pride in that which 
it serves and demand respect for it everywhere. For science is 
not the don’s fad or the student’s grind, but a way of under- 
standing nature, equally needful to every man. 





This chapter is about intellectual freedom. I shall argue 
that its doctrine, as handed down to us, is intrinsically incon- 
sistent and that the fall of liberty on the Continent of Europe 
was an outcome of this inadequacy. Freedom of thought 
destroyed itself when a self-contradictory conception of liberty 
was pursued to its ultimate conclusions. 

To present this argument, I must glance back for a moment 
to the very beginning of systematic thinking. Modem thought 
in the widest sense emerged with the emancipation of the 
human mind from a mythological and magical interpretation 
of the universe. We know when this first happened, at what 
place and by what method. This act of liberation was due to 
the Ionian philosophers who flourished in the sixth century B.c. 
They were succeeded by other philosophers of Greece covering 
a period of a thousand years. These ancient thinkers enjoyed 
much freedom of speculation without ever raising decisively 
the issues of intellectual freedom. 

The millennium of ancient philosophy was brought to a 
close by St. Augustine. There followed the long rule of Christian 
theology and the Church of Rome over all departments of 
thought. The rule of ecclesiastic authority was first impaired 
from the twelfth century on by a number of sporadic intellectual 
achievements. Then, as the Italian Renaissance blossomed out, 
the leading artists and thinkers of the time brought religion more 
and more into neglect. The Italian Church itself seemed to 
yield to the new secular interests. Had the whole of Europe been 
at the time of the same mind as Italy, Renaissance Humanism 
might have established freedom of thought everywhere, 
simply by default of opposition. Europe might have returned 
to — or if you like relapsed into — a liberalism resembling that of 
pre-Christian antiquity. Whatever may have followed after that, 
our present disasters would not have occurred. 




However, there arose instead in a number of European 
countries, in Germany, Switzerland, Spain, a fervent religious 
revival, accompanied by a schism of the Christian churches, 
which was to dominate people’s minds for almost two centuries. 
The Catholic Church sharply re-affirmed its authority over the 
whole intellectual sphere. The thoughts of men were moved 
and politics shaped by the struggle between Protestantism and 
Catholicism, to which all contemporary issues contributed by 
alliance to one side or the other. 

By the beginning of the present century — to which I am 
leading up now — the wars between Catholics and Protestants 
had long ceased; yet the formulation of liberal thought still 
remained largely determined by the reaction of past generations 
against the period of religious wars. Liberalism was motivated, 
to start with, by detestation of religious fanaticism. It appealed 
to reason for a cessation of religious strife. This desire to curb 
religious violence was the prime motive of liberalism both in the 
Anglo-American and in the Continental area. Yet from the 
beginning the reaction against religious fanaticism differed 
somewhat in these two areas, and this difference has since 
become increasingly accentuated, so that in consequence 
liberty was upheld in the Western area up to this day and 
suffered a collapse in the territories of Central and Eastern 

Anglo-American liberalism was first formulated by Milton 
and Locke. Their argument for freedom of thought was 
twofold. In its first part (for which we may quote the Areo - 
pagitica) freedom from authority is demanded, so that truth 
may be discovered. The main inspiration of this movement was 
the struggle of the rising natural sciences against the authority 
of Aristotle. Its programme was to let everyone state his beliefs, 
and to allow people to listen and form their own opinion ; the 
ideas which would prevail in a free and open battle of wits 
would be as close an approximation to the truth as can be 
humanly achieved. We may call this the anti-authoritarian 
formula of liberty. Closely related to it is the second half of the 
argument for liberty, which is based on philosophic doubt. 
While its origins go back a long way (right to the philosophers 
of antiquity) this argument was first formulated as a political 
doctrine by Locke. It says simply that we can never be so sure 



of the truth in matters of religion as to warrant the imposition 
of our views on others. These two pleas for freedom of thought 
were put forward and were accepted by England at a time when 
religious beliefs were unshaken and indeed dominant throughout 
the nation. The new tolerance aimed pre-eminently at the 
reconciliation of different denominations in the service of God. 
Atheists were refused tolerance by Locke, as socially unreliable. 

On the Continent, the twofold doctrine of free thought — 
anti-authoritarianism and philosophic doubt — gained ascendancy 
somewhat later than in England and moved on straightaway 
to a more extreme position. This was first effectively formulated 
in the eighteenth century by the philosophy of Enlightenment, 
which was primarily an attack on religious authority and particu- 
larly on the Catholic Church. It professed a radical scepticism. 
The books of Voltaire and of the French Encyclopaedists ex- 
pounding this doctrine were widely read in France, while abroad 
their ideas spread into Germany and far into Eastern Europe. 
Frederick the Great and Catherine of Russia were among their 
correspondents and disciples. The type of Voltairian aristocrat, 
represented by the old Prince Bolkonski in War and Peace , 
was to be found at Court and in feudal residences over many 
parts of Continental Europe at the close of the eighteenth 
century. The depth to which the philosophers had influenced 
political thought in their own country was to be revealed by the 
French Revolution. 

Accordingly, the mood of French Enlightenment, though 
often angry, was always supremely confident. Its followers 
promised to mankind relief from all social ills. One of the 
central figures of the movement, the Baron d’Holbach, declared 
this in his Systeme de la Nature (1770) as follows: 

“Man is miserable, simply because he is ignorant. His mind 
is so infected with prejudices, that one might think him for 
ever condemned to err. ... It is error that has evoked the 
religious fears, which shrivel up men with fright, or make them 
butcher each other for chimeras. The hatred, persecutions, 
massacres and tragedies of which, under the pretexts of the 
interests of Heaven, the earth has been the repeated theatre, 
are one and all the outcome of error.” 

This explanation of human miseries and the remedy which 
is promised for them continued to carry conviction to the 


intelligentsia of Europe long after the French Revolution. It 
remained an axiom among progressive people on the Continent 
that to achieve light and liberty, you had first to break the power 
of the clergy and eliminate the influence of religious dogma. 
Battle after battle was fought in this campaign. Perhaps the 
fiercest engagement was that about the Dreyfus affair at the 
close of the century, in which clericalism was finally defeated 
in France, and further weakened throughout Europe. It was 
about this time that W. E. H. Lecky wrote in his History of 
Rationalism in Europe (1893): “All over Europe the priesthood 
are now associated with a policy of toryism, of reaction or of 
obstruction. All over Europe the organs that represent dog- 
matic interests are in permanent opposition to the progressive 
tendencies around them, and are rapidly sinking into contempt/’ 

I well remember this triumphant sentiment. We looked back 
on earlier times as on a period of darkness, and with Lucretius 
we cried in horror: “Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum ” ; 
what evils religion had inspired ! So we rejoiced at the superior 
knowledge of our age and its assured liberties. The promises of 
peace and freedom given to the world by French Enlighten- 
ment had indeed been wonderfully fulfilled toward the end of 
the nineteenth century. You could travel all over Europe and 
America without a passport and settle down wherever you 
pleased. With the exception of Russia, you could print through- 
out Europe anything without previous censorship and could 
sharply oppose any government or creed, with impunity. In 
Germany — much criticized at the time for being authoritarian 
— biting caricatures of the Emperor were published freely. 
Even in Russia, whose regime was most oppressive, Marx’s 
Kapital appeared in translation immediately after its first 
publication and received favourable reviews throughout the 
press. In the whole of Europe not more than a few hundred 
people were forced into political exile. Throughout the planet 
all men of European race were living in free intellectual and 
personal communication. It is hardly surprising that the 
universal establishment of peace and tolerance through the 
victory of modern enlightenment, was confidently expected at 
the turn of the century by a large majority of educated people on 
the Continent of Europe. 

Thus we entered on the twentieth century as on an age of 



infinite promise. Few people realized at the time that we were 
walking into a minefield — even though the mines had all been 
prepared and carefully laid in open daylight by well-known 
thinkers of our own age. To-day we know that our expectations 
proved false. We have all learned to trace the collapse of freedom 
in the twentieth century to the writings of certain philosophers, 
particularly of Marx, Nietzsche, and their common ancestors, 
Fichte and Hegel. But the story has yet to be told how we came 
to welcome as liberators the philosophies which were to destroy 

I have said that I consider the collapse of freedom in Central 
and Eastern Europe as the outcome of an internal contradiction 
in the doctrine of liberty. Wherein lies this inconsistency? 
Why did it destroy freedom in large parts of Continental Europe, 
and has not had similar effects so far in the Western or Anglo- 
American area of our civilization? 

The argument of doubt put forward by Locke in favour of 
tolerance says that since it is impossible to demonstrate which 
religion is true, we should admit them all. This implies that we 
must not impose beliefs that are not demonstrable. Let us 
apply this doctrine to ethical principles. It follows that unless 
ethical principles can be demonstrated with certainty, we should 
refrain from imposing them and should tolerate their total 
denial. But of course, ethical principles cannot be demonstrated: 
you cannot prove the obligation to tell the truth, to uphold justice 
and mercy. It would follow therefore that a system of mendacity, 
lawlessness and cruelty is to be accepted as an alternative to 
ethical principles on equal terms. But a society in which 
unscrupulous propaganda, violence and terror prevail offers no 
scope for tolerance. Here the inconsistency of a liberalism based 
on philosophic doubt becomes apparent: freedom of thought is 
destroyed by the extension of doubt to the field of traditional 

The consummation of this destructive process was prevented 
in the Anglo-American region by an instinctive reluctance to 
pursue the accepted philosophic premises to their ultimate 
conclusions. One way of avoiding this was by pretending that 
ethical principles could actually be scientifically demonstrated. 
Locke himself started this train of thought by asserting that 
good and evil could be identified with pleasure and pain, and 

98 the logic of liberty 

suggesting that all ideals of good behaviour are merely maxims 
of prudence. 

However, the utilitarian calculus cannot in fact demonstrate 
our obligations to ideals which demand serious sacrifices from 
us. A man’s sincerity in professing his ideals is to be measured 
rather by the lack of prudence which he shows in pursuing 
them. The utilitarian confirmation of unselfishness is no more 
than a pretence, by which traditional ideals are made acceptable 
to a philosophically sceptical age. Camouflaged as long-term 
selfishness, the traditional ideals of man are protected from des- 
truction by scepticism. 

I believe that the preservation up to this day of Western 
civilization along the lines of the Anglo-American tradition of 
liberty was due to this speculative restraint, amounting to a 
veritable suspension of logic within the British empiricist 
philosophy. It was enough to pay philosophic lip-service to the 
supremacy of the pleasure-principle. Ethical standards were 
not really replaced by new purposes; still less was there any 
inclination of abandoning these standards in practice. The 
masses of the people and their leaders in public life could in 
fact disregard the accepted philosophy, both in deciding their 
personal conduct and in building up their political institutions. 
The whole sweeping advance of moral aspirations to which the 
Age of Reason opened the way — the English Revolution, the 
American Revolution, the French Revolution, the first libera- 
tion of the slaves in the British Empire, the Factory Reforms, 
the founding of the League of Nations, Britain’s stand against 
Hitler, theofferingof Lend-Lease, U.N.R.R.A. and Marshall Aid, 
the sending of millions of food parcels by individual Americans 
to unknown beneficiaries in Europe — in all these decisive 
actions public opinion was swayed by moral forces, by charity, 
by a desire for justice and a detestation of social evils which 
disregarded the fact that these had no true justification in the 
prevailing philosophy of the age. Utilitarianism and other allied 
materialistic formulations of traditional ideals remained on 
paper. The philosophic impairment of universal moral standards 
led only to their verbal replacement; it was a sham-replacement, 
or to give it a technical designation, we may speak of a “pseudo- 
substitution” of utilitarian purposes for moral principles. 

The speculative and practical restraints which saved 



liberalism from self-destruction in the Anglo-American area 
were due in the first place to the distinctly religious character 
of this liberalism. So long as philosophic doubt was applied 
only in order to secure equal rights to all religions and was 
prohibited from demanding equal rights also for irreligion, the 
same restraint would automatically apply in respect to moral 
beliefs. A scepticism which was kept on short leash for the sake 
of preserving religious beliefs, would hardly become a menace 
to fundamental moral principles. A second restraint on scep- 
ticism, closely related to the first, lay in the establishment of 
democratic institutions at a time when religious beliefs were 
still strong. These institutions (for example the American 
Constitution) gave effect to the moral principles which underlie 
a free society. The tradition of democracy embodied in these 
institutions proved strong enough to uphold in practice the 
moral standards of a free society against any critique which 
would question their validity. 

Both these protective restraints, however, were absent in 
those parts of Europe where liberalism was based on French 
Enlightenment. This movement being anti-religious, it 
imposed no restraint on sceptical speculations; nor were the 
standards of morality embodied here in democratic institutions. 
When a feudal society, dominated by religious authority, was 
attacked by a radical scepticism, there emerged a liberalism 
which was unprotected either by a religious or a civic tradition 
against destruction by the philosophic scepticism to which it 
owed its origin. 

Let me describe briefly what happened. From the middle of 
the eighteenth century, Continental thought faced up seriously 
to the fact that the universal standards of reason could not be 
philosophically justified in the light of the sceptical attitude 
which had initiated the rationalist movement. The great philo- 
sophic tumult which started in the second half of the eighteenth 
century on the Continent of Europe and which finally led up to 
the philosophic disasters of our own days, represented an in- 
cessant preoccupation with the collapse of the philosophic 
foundations of rationalism. Universal standards of human 
behaviour having fallen into philosophic disrepute, various sub- 
stitutes were put forward in their place. I shall indicate the 
main forms under which these made their appearance. 



The first kind of substitute standard was derived from the 
contemplation of individuality. The case for the uniqueness of 
the individual is set out as follows in the opening words of 
Rousseau's Confessions . He talks about himself: “Myself 
alone. . . . There is no one who resembles me. . . . We shall see 
whether Nature was right in breaking the mould into which 
she had cast me.” Individuality here challenged the world to 
judge it, if it can, by universal standards. Creative genius 
claimed to be the renewer of all values and therefore to be 
incommensurable. This claim was to be extended to whole 
nations; according to it, each nation had its unique set of values 
which could not be validly criticized in the light of universal 
reason. A nation's only obligation was, like that of the unique 
individual, to realize its own powers. In following the call of 
its destiny, a nation must allow no other nation to stand in its 

If you apply this claim for the supremacy of uniqueness — 
which we may call Romanticism — to single persons, you arrive 
at a general hostility to society, as exemplified in the anti- 
conventional and almost extra-territorial attitude of the Con- 
tinental boh£me. If applied to nations, it results on the contrary 
in the conception of a unique national destiny which claims the 
absolute allegiance of all its citizens. The national leader 
combines the advantages of both. He can stand entranced in 
the admiration of his own uniqueness, while identifying his 
personal ambitions with the destiny of the nation lying at his 

Romanticism was a literary movement and a change of heart, 
rather than a philosophy. Its counterpart in systematic thought 
was constructed by the Hegelian dialectic. Hegel took charge of 
Universal Reason, emaciated to a ghost by its treatment at the 
hands of Kant, and clad it with the warm flesh of history. 
Declared incompetent to judge historic action, reason was given 
the comfortable position of being immanent in history. An ideal 
situation: “Heads you lose, tails I win." Identified with the 
stronger battalions, reason became invincible ; but unfortunately 
also redundant. 

The next step was therefore quite naturally the complete 
disestablishment of reason. Marx and Engels decided to turn 
the Hegelian dialectic right way up. No longer should the tail 



pretend to wag the dog. The bigger battalions should be recog- 
nized as makers of history in their own right, with reason as a 
mere apologist to justify their conquests. 

The story of this last development is well known. Marx 
reinterpreted history as the outcome of class conflicts, which 
arise from the need of adjusting “the relations of production” 
to “the forces of production”. Expressed in ordinary language 
this says that as new technical equipment becomes available 
from time to time, it is necessary to change the order of property 
in favour of a new class, which is invariably achieved by 
overthrowing the hitherto favoured class. Socialism, it was 
said, brings these violent changes to a close by establishing 
the classless society. From its first formulation in the Com- 
munist Manifesto this doctrine places the “eternal truths, 
such as Freedom, Justice, etc.” — which it mentions in these 
terms — into a very doubtful position. Since these ideas are 
supposed to have always been used only to soothe the conscience 
of the rulers and bemuse the suspicions of the exploited, there 
is no clear place left for them in the classless society. To-day 
it has become apparent that there is indeed nothing in the realm 
of ideas, from law and religion to poetry and science, from the 
rules of football to the composition of music, that cannot be 
readily interpreted by Marxists as a mere product of class 

Meanwhile the legacy of Romantic nationalism, developing 
on parallel lines, was also gradually transposed into materialistic 
terms. Wagner and the Walhalla no doubt affected Nazi 
imagery; Mussolini gloried in recalling Imperial Rome. But 
the really effective idea of Hitler and Mussolini was their 
classification of nations into haves and have-nots on the model 
of Marxian class-war. The actions of nations were in this view 
not determined, nor capable of being judged by right or wrong. 
Those in possession preached peace and the sacredness of 
international law, since the law sanctioned their holdings. But 
of course this code was unacceptable to virile nations, left 
empty-handed; they would rise and overthrow the degenerate 
capitalistic democracies which had become the dupes of their 
pacific ideology, originally intended only to bemuse the under- 
dogs. And so the text of Fascist and National-socialist foreign 
policy ran on, exactly on the lines of a Marxism applied to 



class war between nations. Indeed, already by the opening of 
the twentieth century, influential German writers had fully 
refashioned the nationalism of Fichte and Hegel on the lines 
of a power-political interpretation of history. Romanticism had 
been brutalized and brutality romanticized, until the product 
was as tough as Marx’s own historic materialism. 

We have here the final outcome of the Continental cycle of 
thought. The self-destruction of Liberalism, which was kept 
in a state of suspended logic in the Anglo-American field of 
Western civilization, was here brought to its ultimate conclusion. 
The process of replacing moral ideals by philosophically less 
vulnerable objectives was carried out in all seriousness. This is 
not a mere pseudo-substitution, but a real substitution of 
human appetites and human passions for reason and the ideals 
of man. 

This brings us right up to the scene of the revolutions of the 
twentieth century. We can see now how the philosophies which 
guided these revolutions and destroyed liberty wherever they 
prevailed, were originally justified by the anti-authoritarian 
and sceptical formula of liberty. They were indeed anti- 
authoritarian and sceptical to the extreme. They set man free 
from obligations towards truth and justice, reducing reason 
to its own caricature : to a mere rationalization of conclusions, 
pre-determined by desire and eventually to be secured, or 
already held, by force. Such was the final measure of this 
liberation: man was to be recognized henceforth as maker 
and master, and no longer servant of what had before been 
his ideals. 

This liberation, however, destroyed the very foundations of 
liberty. If thought and reason are nothing by themselves, then 
it is meaningless to demand that thought be set free. The bound- 
less hopes which the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century 
attached to the overthrow of authority and to the pursuit of 
doubt, were hopes attached to the release of reason. Its fol- 
lowers firmly believed — to use Jefferson’s majestic vocabulary — 
in “truths that are self-evident”, which would guard “life, 
liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, under governments 
“deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”. 
They relied on truths, which they trusted to be inscribed in the 
hearts of men, for establishing peace and freedom among men 



everywhere. The assumption of universal standards of reason 
was implicit in the hopes of Enlightenment and the philosophies 
which denied the existence of such standards denied therefore 
the foundations of all these hopes. 

But it is not enough to show how a logical process, starting 
from an inadequate formulation of liberty, led to philosophic 
conclusions that contradicted liberty. I have yet to show that 
this contradiction was actually put into operation; that these 
conclusions were not merely entertained and believed to be 
true, but met people prepared to act upon them. If ideas cause 
revolutions, they can only do so through people who will act 
upon them. If my account of the fall of liberty in Europe is to 
satisfy you, I must be able to show that there were people who 
actually transformed philosophic error into destructive human 

Of such people we have ample documentary evidence among 
the intelligentsia of Central and Eastern Europe. We may 
describe them as Nihilists. 

There is an interesting ambiguity in the connotations of the 
word “nihilism”, which at first may seem confusing, but 
actually turns out to be illuminating. Remember Rauschning’s 
interpretation of the National Socialist upheaval in his book 
Germany s Revolution of Nihilism . As against this, reports from 
Central Europe often speak of widespread nihilism, meaning a 
lack of public spirit, the apathy of people who believe in noth- 
ing. This curious duality of nihilism, which makes it a by-word 
both for complete self-centredness and violent revolutionary 
action, can be traced to its earliest origins. The word was 
popularized by Turgenev in his Fathers and Sons } written in 
1862. His prototype of nihilism, the student Bazarov, is an 
extreme individualist without any interest in politics. Nor 
does the next similar figure of Russian literature, Dostoevski’s 
Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment (1865), show any political 
leanings. What Raskolnikov is trying to find out is why he 
should not murder an old woman, if he wanted her money. 
Both Bazarov and Raskolnikov are experimenting privately 
with a life of total disbelief. But already a few years later we 
see the nihilist transformed into a political conspirator. The 
terrorist organization of the Narodniki — or Populists — had 
come into being. Dostoevski portrayed the new type in his 

104 THE LOGIC of liberty 

later novel, The Possessed. The nihilist now appears as an ice- 
cold businesslike conspirator, closely prefiguring the ideal 
Bolshevik as I have seen him represented on the Moscow 
stage in the didactic plays of the early Stalin period. Nor is the 
similarity accidental. For the whole code of conspiratorial 
action — the cells, the secrecy, the discipline and ruthlessness 
— known as the Communist method to-day, was taken over by 
Lenin from the “Populists” ; proof of which can be found in 
articles published by him in 1901. 

English and American people find it difficult to understand 
nihilism, for most of the doctrines professed by nihilists have 
been current among themselves for some time without turning 
those who held them into nihilists. Great solid Bentham would 
not have disagreed with any of the views expounded by 
Turgenev’s prototype of nihilism, the student Bazarov. But 
while Bentham and other sceptically minded Englishmen 
may use such philosophies merely as a mistaken explana- 
tion of their own conduct, which in actual fact is determined 
by their traditional beliefs — the nihilist Bazarov and his 
kind take such philosophies seriously and try to live by their 

The nihilist who tries to live without any beliefs, obligations, 
or restrictions, stands at the first, the private stage of nihilism. 
He is represented in Russia by the earlier type of intellectual 
described by Turgenev and the younger Dostoevski. In 
Germany we find nihilists of this kind growing up in large 
numbers under the influence of Nietzsche and Stirner; and 
later, between 1910 and 1930, we see emerging in direct line 
of their succession the great German Youth Movement, with 
its radical contempt for all existing social ties. 

But the solitary nihilist is unstable. Starved of social res- 
ponsibility, he is liable to be drawn into politics, provided he can 
find a movement based on nihilistic assumptions. Thus, when 
he turns to public affairs, he adopts a creed of political violence. 
The cafes of Munich, Berlin, Vienna, Prague, and Budapest, 
where writers, painters, lawyers, doctors, had spent so many 
hours of amusing speculation and gossip, thus became in 1918 
the recruiting grounds for the “armed bohemians”, whom 
Heiden in his book on Hitler describes as the agents of the 
European Revolution. Just as the Bloomsbury of the unbridled 



twenties unexpectedly turned out numerous disciplined 
Marxists around 1930. 

The conversion of the nihilist from extreme individualism 
to the service of a fierce and narrow political creed is the 
turning-point of the European Revolution. The downfall of 
liberty in Europe consisted in a series of such individual 

Their mechanism deserves closest attention. Take first 
conversion to Marxism. Historic materialism had all the 
attractions of a second Enlightenment — taking off and carrying 
on from the first anti-religious Enlightenment, and offering 
the same intense mental satisfaction. Those who accepted its 
guidance felt suddenly initiated to the real forces actuating 
men and operating in history; to a reality that had hitherto 
been hidden to them and still remained hidden to the un- 
enlightened, by a veil of deceit and self-deceit. Marx and the 
whole materialistic movement of which he formed part, had 
turned the world right way up before their eyes, revealing to 
them the true springs of human behaviour. 

Marxism offered them also a future, bearing unbounded 
promise to humanity. It predicted that historic necessity would 
destroy an antiquated form of society and replace it by a new 
one, in which the existing miseries and injustices would be 
eliminated. Though this prospect was put forward as a purely 
scientific observation, it endowed those who accepted it with 
a feeling of overwhelming moral superiority. They acquired a 
sense of righteousness, which in a paradoxical manner was 
fiercely intensified by the mechanical framework in which it was 
set. Their nihilism had prevented them from demanding 
justice in the name of justice, or humanity in the name of 
humanity; these words were banned from their vocabulary 
and their minds closed to these concepts. But, silenced and 
repressed, their moral aspirations found an outlet in the scientific 
prediction of a perfect society. Here was set out a scientific 
Utopia relying for its fulfilment only on violence. Nihilists 
could accept, and would eagerly embrace, such a prophecy, 
which required from its disciples no other belief than that in the 
force of bodily appetites and yet at the same time satisfied their 
most extravagant moral hopes. Their sense of righteousness was 
thus reinforced by a calculated brutality, born of scientific 




self-assurance. There emerged the modem fanatic, armoured 
with impenetrable scepticism. 

The power of Marxism over the mind is based here on a 
process exactly inverse of Freudian sublimation. The moral 
needs of man, which are denied expression in terms of human 
ideals, are injected into a system of naked power, to which they 
impart the force of a blind moral passion. With some qualifica- 
tion the same is true of the appeal of National Socialism to the 
mind of German youth. By offering them an interpretation of 
history in the materialistic terms of international class-war, 
Hitler mobilized their sense of civic obligation which would 
not respond to humane ideals. It was a mistake to regard the 
Nazi as an untaught savage. His bestiality was carefully groomed 
by speculations closely reflecting Marxian influence. His 
contempt for humanitarian ideals had a century of philosophic 
schooling behind it. The Nazi disbelieves in public morality 
in the way we disbelieve in witchcraft. It is not that he has 
never heard of it, but that he thinks he has valid grounds to 
assert that such a thing cannot exist. If you tell him the con- 
trary, he will think you peculiarly old-fashioned, or simply 

In such men, the traditional forms for holding moral ideals 
had been shattered and their moral passions diverted into the 
only channels which a strictly mechanistic conception of man 
and society left open to them. We may describe this as a process 
of moral inversion . The morally inverted person has not merely 
performed a philosophic substitution of moral aims by material 
purposes, but is acting with the whole force of his homeless 
moral passions within a purely materialistic framework of 

There remains for me to describe the actual battlefield 
on which the conflict that led to the downfall of liberty in 
Europe was fought out. Let me approach the scene from the 
West. Towards the close of the Four Years’ War, we hear from 
across the Atlantic the voice of Wilson appealing for a new 
Europe in terms of pure eighteenth-century ideas. “What we 
seek”, he summed up in his declaration of the 4th July, 1918, 
“is the reign of law, based upon the consent of the governed and 
sustained by the organized opinion of mankind”. When a few 
months later Wilson landed in Europe, a tide of boundless 



hope swept through its lands. They were the old hopes of the 
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, only much brighter than 
ever before. 

Wilson’s appeal and the response it evoked marked the 
high tide of the original moral aspirations of Enlightenment. 
It showed how, in spite of the philosophic difficulties which 
impaired the foundations of overt moral assertions, such 
assertions could in practice still be made as vigorously as ever 
in the regions of Anglo-American influence. 

But the great hopes spreading from the Atlantic seaboard 
were contemptuously rejected by the nihilistic or morally 
inverted intelligentsia of Central and Eastern Europe. To 
Lenin, Wilson’s language was a huge joke; from Mussolini or 
Goebbels it might have evoked an angry sneer. And the political 
theories which these men and their small circle of followers 
were mooting at the time were soon to defeat the appeal of 
Wilson and of democratic ideals in general. They were to 
establish within twenty years or so a comprehensive system of 
totalitarian governments over Europe, with a good prospect of 
subjecting the whole world to such government. 

The sweeping success of Wilson’s opponents was due to 
the greater appeal which their ideas made on a considerable 
section of the Central and Eastern nations. Admittedly, their 
final rise to power was achieved by violence, but not before they 
had gained sufficient support in every stratum of the population 
so that they could use violence effectively. Wilson’s doctrines 
were first defeated by the superior convincing power of opposing 
philosophies, and it is this new and fiercer Enlightenment that 
has continued ever since to strike relentlessly at every humane 
and rational principle rooted in the soil of Europe. 

The downfall of liberty which followed the success of these 
attacks everywhere demonstrates in hard facts what I had said 
before : that freedom of thought is rendered pointless and must 
disappear, where reason and morality are deprived of their 
status as a force in their own right. When the judge in court can 
no longer appeal to law and justice; when neither a witness, nor 
the newspapers, nor even a scientist reporting on his experiments, 
can speak the truth as he knows it; when in public life there is 
no moral principle commanding respect; when the revelations 
of religion and of art are denied any substance; then there are 


no grounds left on which any individual may justly make a 
stand against the rulers of the day. Such is the simple logic of 
totalitarianism. A nihilistic regime will have to undertake the 
day-to-day direction of all activities which are otherwise guided 
by the intellectual and moral principles that nihilism declares 
empty and void. Principles must be replaced by the decrees of 
an all-embracing Party Line. 

This is why modern totalitarianism, based on a purely 
materialistic conception of man, is of necessity more oppressive 
than an authoritarianism enforcing a spiritual creed, however 
rigid. Take the medieval church even at its worst. The authority 
of certain texts which it imposed remained fixed over long 
periods of time and their interpretation was laid down in 
systems of theology and philosophy, gradually developing over 
more than a millennium from St. Paul to Aquinas. A good 
Catholic was not required to change his convictions and reverse 
his beliefs at frequent intervals, in deference to the secret 
decisions of a handful of high officials. Moreover, since the 
authority of the Church was spiritual, it recognized other 
independent principles outside its own. Though it imposed 
numerous regulations on individual conduct, there were many 
parts of life left untouched and governed by other authorities 
— rivals of the Church — like kings, noblemen, guilds, corpora- 
tions. And the power of all these was transcended by the growing 
force of law; while a good deal of speculative and artistic in- 
itiative was allowed to pulsate freely through this many-sided 

The unprecedented oppressiveness of modern totali- 
tarianism has become widely recognized on the Continent 
to-day and has gone some way towards allaying the feud 
between the fighters of liberty and the upholders of religion, 
which had been going on there since the first spread of Enlighten- 
ment. Anti-clericalism is not dead, but many who recognize the 
transcendent obligations and are resolved to preserve a society 
built on the belief that such obligations are real, have now dis- 
covered that they stand much closer to believers in the Bible 
and in the Christian revelation, than to the nihilist regimes, 
based on radical disbelief. History will perhaps record the 
Italian elections of April 1946 as the turning-point. The defeat 
inflicted there on the Communists by a large Catholic majority 



was hailed with immense relief by defenders of liberty through- 
out the world; by many who had been brought up under 
Voltaire’s motto, “ficrasez l’infame!” and had in earlier days 
voiced all their hopes in that battle-cry. 

It would seem to me that on the day when the modern 
sceptic first placed his trust in the Catholic Church to rescue his 
liberties against the Frankenstein monster of his own creation, 
a vast cycle of human thought had come full swing. The sphere 
of doubt had been circumnavigated. The critical enterprise 
which gave rise to the Renaissance and the Reformation, and 
started the rise of our science, philosophy, and art, had matured 
to its conclusion and had reached its final limits. We have thus 
begun to live in a new intellectual period, which I would call 
the post-critical age of Western civilization. Liberalism to-day 
is becoming conscious of its own fiduciary foundations and is 
forming an alliance with other beliefs, kindred to its own. 

The instability of modern liberalism stands in curious 
contrast to the peacefully continued existence of intellectual 
freedom through a thousand years of antiquity. Why did the 
contradiction between liberty and scepticism never plunge the 
ancient world into a totalitarian revolution, like that of the 
twentieth century? 

We may answer that at least once such a crisis did develop 
when a number of brilliant young men, whom Socrates had 
introduced to the pursuit of unfettered inquiry blossomed out 
as leaders of the Thirty Tyrants. Men like Charmides and 
Kritias were nihilists, consciously adopting a political philo- 
sophy of smash-and-grab which they derived from their 
Socratic education; and as a reaction to this Socrates was 
impeached and executed. 

Yet I think that these conflicts were never so fierce and far- 
reaching as the revolutions of the twentieth century. There was 
an element of passion lacking in antiquity: the prophetic 
passion of Christian Messianism. The ever-unquenched hunger 
and thirst after righteousness which our civilization carries in 
its blood as a heritage of Christianity, does not allow us to 
settle down in the Stoic manner of antiquity. Modern thought 
is a mixture of Christian beliefs and Greek doubts. Christian 
beliefs and Greek doubts are logically incompatible and the 
conflict between the two has kept Western thought alive and 



creative beyond precedent. But this mixture is an unstable 
foundation. Modern totalitarianism is a consummation of the 
conflict between religion and scepticism. It solves the conflict 
by embodying our heritage of moral passions in a framework of 
modem materialistic purposes. The conditions for such an 
outcome were not present in the age of antiquity, before 
Christianity had set alight new vast moral hopes in the heart of 



This essay may be labouring the obvious. But obvious 
though my result may seem, I can find it stated nowhere, 
while a great deal has been written which contradicts it by 

I affirm that the central planning of production — in the 
rigorous and historically not unwarranted sense of the term — 
is strictly impossible; the reason being that the number of 
relations requiring adjustment per unit of time for the function- 
ing of an economic system of n productive units is tt-times 
greater than can be adjusted by subordinating the units to a 
central authority. Thus, if we insisted in placing the 100,000 
business units of a major industrial country under a single 
technocratic control, replacing all market operations by central 
allocations of materials to each plant, the rate of economic 
adjustments would be reduced to about 1 : 100,000 of its usual 
value and the rate of production would be reduced to the same 

The actual figure and even the precise form of the mathe- 
matical relationship is unimportant. My point is that it can be 
demonstrated that an overwhelming reduction, amounting to a 
standstill in the possible rate of production, must arise from the 
administrative limitations of a system of central direction. 

If this is true — and I think it is only too obviously true — 
then a number of problems arise. If planning is impossible 
to the point of absurdity, what are the so-called planned econo- 
mies doing? What about wartime planning? And how can 
central economic planning, if it is utterly incapable of achieve- 
ment, be a danger to liberty as it is widely assumed to be? 

I shall not face these questions here directly, but I think 
that the subsequent argument goes a considerable way towards 
answering them. While I shall emphasize here throughout 

1 The Manchester School , 1948. 


1 12 


that the operations of a system of spontaneous order in society, 
such as the competitive order of a market, cannot be replaced 
by the establishment of a deliberate ordering agency, this must 
not be taken as an attempt to overlook or excuse the short- 
comings of such automatic systems. It merely implies that, 
in general, we must either put up with these deficiencies or 
forgo the operations of the system altogether. For though we 
may sometimes be able to invent and enforce some new forms of 
mutual adjustment which will fulfil our purpose better, there is 
no reason to assume that this will as a rule be possible. This is 
extensively discussed in a subsequent essay (p. 1 54)- 

Corporate Order 

There are many ways of placing human beings into the 
specifically prescribed positions of a pattern. You may line 
up people in a row according to size, or assign to each of them 
a particular seat in a train. But I wish to concentrate here on 
such forms of specific direction as co-ordinate the full- 
time activities of a group of people over an extensive period, 
directing them to the execution of a complex and flexible task 
and requiring at frequent intervals the re-assignment of the part 
played by each. Such specific direction must involve the placing 
of the persons in question under the authority of one superior, 
with responsibility continuously to re-direct their joint activities. 
These persons must be organized into a corporation under the 
authority of a chief executive. 

The shape of such corporations is predominantly determined 
by the fact that the number of subordinates placed directly 
under the orders of any superior must not exceed his span of 
control. In the administration of a delicate and rapidly changing 
task the span of control will usually not exceed 3 to 5. The limit 
is imposed by the fact that the number of significant relations 
between subordinates requiring readjustment goes up steeply 
with the number of subordinates, so that the number of these 
relations — or more precisely, the rate at which they have to be 
readjusted — soon outruns the controlling powers of one man’s 

Since the chief can give orders directly to no more than 
three to five subordinates, any larger body must be co-ordinated 



through devolution to successive tiers of subordinate officials. 
These tiers will broaden out at each stage down to the lowest 
level, which will contain the men and women actually handling 
the job. The directions of the chief executive descend to the 
lowest level through a pyramid of authority, which is also an 
organ for reporting upwards the events which occur among the 
workers (or soldiers, etc.) at the base. 

In a hierarchic order of this kind, each person’s primary 
task is assigned to him by direction from above and his principal 
communications regarding the progress of his work take the 
form of reports to his superior. An official’s direct contacts 
are thus limited to the one man above him and to the few 
immediate subordinates below him, and any direct official 
contacts he would make beyond these would short-circuit some 
of the lines of authority on which the organization relies. If 
at any point such a contact should exercise a decisive effect on 
the actions of any member of the organization, it would sever 
the line of authority connecting him with the centre. 

The actions of a perfectly co-ordinated corporate body of 
this kind (engaged for example in waging a military campaign 
or conducting a commercial enterprise) are essentially those of 
the one man at the top. The chief alone is allowed to deal with 
the wider perspectives and the longer-range problems of the 
corporation ; he alone can evolve a strategy and exercise powers 
of judgment of a higher order. All others have only fragmentary 
tasks to perform within the limits of the changing directives 
issued to them by their immediate superiors. 

A corporation thus elaborates the ideas of the chief executive 
and his advisers into a wealth of detail, co-ordinating the men 
at the bottom of the pyramid who carry them out, and assigning 
and continuously re-assigning to each a specific function. The 
actions carried out at the base of the pyramid may therefore be 
said to be centrally directed or centrally planned. 

The essential limitations of this method can be readily 
recognized from the previous description. The task assigned 
to a centrally directed corporation must possess natural 
unity, in order that it may be successfully handled by one man 
at the top; it must be capable of subdivision in a series of 
successive stages, each resultant part once more forming a 
natural unit which can be assigned to one man as his particular 


II 4 

job; and the co-ordination of these parts must be amenable 
to control by one person. 

Tasks which have a profound natural unity very often 
cannot be subdivided at all. Poetry and painting, invention and 
discovery, are essentially one-man jobs. Other tasks, though 
they can be broken down to subsidiary jobs, will often not be 
suited for repeated subdivision into a large number of successive 
stages. Hence corporate organizations will as a rule not grow 
to large sizes so long as they are performing closely co-ordinated, 
complex and flexible operations. Where we meet large hierarchic 
organizations which can apparently be extended indefinitely, 
like railways or post offices, they turn out to be rather loose 
aggregates performing standardized functions. Armies may 
appear as exceptions, for they are flexible and yet maintain a 
measure of organic unity, while comprising millions of members. 
But the co-ordination of fighting units within a campaigning 
army is really quite loose ; though this may go unnoticed since 
an army’s task consists merely in defeating another army, which 
is organized in a similarly clumsy manner. 

The productive process of a modern industrial system 
involves the allocation to each plant of materials produced by 
other plants and the daily readjustments of these allocations 
of materials, in response to the variations in their supply and 
the changes of demand from other plants and from consumers. 
This system of allocations represents a coherent task of great 
complexity, which continuously requires readjustment at every 
plant. If this task had to be directed centrally, it would have to 
be carried out through a single corporate body, with the plants 
at its base. Such a corporate body, however, would not satisfy 
the conditions outlined in the foregoing paragraphs and hence 
could not function. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate 
this thesis, by attempting an approximately quantitative 
comparison of the administrative powers of a corporate body 
with the size of the administrative task, involved in the conduct 
of a modern industrial system of production. 

Spontaneous Order compared with Corporate Order 

Consider the possibilities of spontaneous order in society. 
There are a number of cases of this type which do not interest 



us here. For instance, passengers will distribute themselves 
over the compartments of a train by mutual adjustment in an 
orderly fashion, first filling all window seats facing the engine, 
then all other window seats and the corridor corner seats, etc., 
until all seats are filled, with passengers occupying the various 
grades of places in a descending sequence of advantage in 
accordance with the sequence of their arrival on the platform. 
We shall not deal here with such occasional and inessential 
forms of mutual adjustment, but turn our attention to spontane- 
ously ordered systems in which persons mutually adjust their 
full-time activities over a prolonged period, resulting in a 
complex and yet highly adaptable co-ordination of these 

I have said earlier on in a preliminary fashion that the two 
kinds of order — the deliberate and the spontaneous — are 
mutually exclusive. I must now qualify this statement. The 
establishment of a corporate body does not exclude all mutual 
adjustments between its members. In a battle-line, neighbour- 
ing units belonging to different divisions will mutually assist 
each other without awaiting instructions from army command. 
Intelligent regard for what the next man is doing is indispens- 
able to the successful operation of any corporate authority. 
Such mutual adjustment, however, must never go beyond a 
certain limit. It should condition the actions of subordinates, but 
must never determine them. Only if the superior remains decisive 
in determining the actions of his subordinates, can he remain 
responsible for the co-ordination of their activities. If persons 
operating at the base of a pyramid of authority (or at any other 
level of it) were to allow their actions to be primarily determined 
by direct mutual contacts, the authority above them would be 
nullified. In this sense it is true that the two kinds of order are 
mutually exclusive. 

I shall show next that the span of control (i.e. the number of 
adjustable relations) is much larger within a system of mutual 
adjustment than under the authority of a corporate body, and 
that the task of administering a process of industrial production 
requires the readjustment of a number of relations far exceeding 
the span of control of a corporate body; and that consequently, 
(1) a corporate body cannot even remotely cope with such a 
task and (2) this can be carried out only under a system of mutual 


adjustment, so far as it can be rationally administered at all. 
This argument requires a comparative estimate of the spans 
of control of corporate bodies on the one hand and spontaneous 
systems on the other. 

Consider two small teams, say of five persons each, repre- 
senting respectively examples of our two kinds of order. Let 
one team be the five forwards in a game of football, charging at 
the opposite goal and co-ordinating themselves by mutual 
adjustment. Let the other team be the crew of a small craft 
riding a heavy sea, where each man’s actions are co-ordinated 
to the others’ by the captain’s commands. This gives us for 
comparison two cases, one of spontaneous and the other of 
corporate order, each covering a network of relationships in a 
system of five units. We may take it that this network comprises 
the same number of independently adjustable relationships in 
both cases. 

Call / the number of adjustments which each football 
forward can effectively make per minute in response to the 
action of the other four players, and call c the number of orders 
the captain can effectively issue per minute to his crew. If the 
number of relations adjusted per football player per minute 
is measured by/, then the corresponding number for the crew 
of five sailors is c/5. Now self-adjustment is swifter than the 
adjustment of others by issuing orders to them, so / is larger 
than c and it is, of course, five times larger still than c/5. The 
number of relations adjusted per person per minute is there- 
fore greater in the self-co-ordinated than in the authoritatively 
controlled team. But this does not bring out the decisive 
difference between the two types, which becomes apparent 
only in systems of larger size. 

Let us examine an extension of the numbers involved in 
either type and compare the corresponding increase in the 
number of relationships brought under control. A system of 
spontaneous order is entirely on one level and all additional 
units accrue to it on the same level. A corporate system, on the 
other hand, can be extended to any considerable extent only by 
increasing the height of the pyramid through the addition of new 
tiers. In a corporate body, in which the span of control of each 
superior is 5 and this span is fully utilized throughout, each 
lower level will contain five times more persons than the 


level above it, and if the number of levels is /, the total number 
p of persons comprised will be : 

P =1 + 5 + 5 2 + 5 3 + 

A sea captain in a storm, issuing orders directly to each 
of his crew of five, would be at the very limit of his span of 
control, and we may take it, therefore, that the number c of 
orders given by him per minute would represent the maximum 
that can be effectively issued by any superior to his subordinates. 
The number per minute of relations adjustable per person at the 
base of the pyramid will hence be represented for the corporate 
order by c - times the number p—5 1 ' 1 of superior officers 
issuing orders to subordinates, divided by the number 5*' 1 of 
persons at the base of the pyramid. Carrying out the calcula- 
tion, this number will be found to be only slightly greater than 
c 1 5, that is, of the same order as for the captain and his crew of 
five. In other words : an increase in the size of a corporate body 
leaves the number of relations per capita which can be adjusted 
between the persons whose actions it ultimately governs, 
practically unaffected. 

Take now the extension of a system of spontaneous order. 
We shall again assume that the performance of the individual 
participants remains unchanged while the system is extended; 
which means in this case that the same rate of self-adjustment/ 
that applied to the chain of football forwards is assumed 
throughout. But we must now consider the fact that/ was a 
proper measure of the rate of adjustment of relations between 
five football forwards, in comparing them with a crew of five 
sailors, only because the two groups are equinumerous. For 
there is no reason why in general the member of a team 
adjusting his actions to that of his fellows should not take into 
account and adjust himself to the actions of more than four of 
his fellows. Football forwards will actually do this quite often 
and there are many systems of spontaneous order for which the 
number of relations affected by each act of self-adjustment is 
much greater still. 

Think, for example, of the consumers of gas at a time when 
there is a shortage resulting in abnormally low gas-pressure. 
A number of people will be unable to heat their bath-water to 
an acceptable temperature and will rather not have a bath. 


Every person deciding in view of the existing gas-pressure for or 
against having a bath will directly affect the decision of all other 
consumers, making up their minds on the same question about 
the same time. We have here a system of mutual adjustments, 
each of which affects thousands of relations. This number may 
become much greater still when a system of mutual adjustment 
is based on organized publicity. This is realized, most notably, 
in a public market where millions of consumers draw on the 
same supplies. Each consumer adjusts his purchases to the 
r ulin g price, which he affects in his turn by his purchases. 

The allocation of raw materials through the market to the 
plants constituting a productive system, and the suitable 
readjustment of this allocation in view of the changing supplies 
of raw materials and the varying demands of consumers — with 
which we are principally concerned here — is clearly another 
instance of a large self-co-ordinating system in which each 
decision of one unit re-adjusts its relations to a great number of 
other units. 

In these large spontaneously ordered systems, the number 
of relations readjusted by each self-adjustment may be many 
thousand times greater than in a system of five football for- 
wards. Assuming the (maximum) rate of self-adjustment still 
to be/, the rate of adjustment of relations per person may thus 
become many thousand times/. 

We recognize here the immense quantitative superiority 
of a system of spontaneous order. When such a system is 
extended in size, there may result an almost indefinite increase 
in the rate at which relations are readjusted per member. This 
is in sharp contrast to the conditions prevailing within a 
corporate system, the growth of which does not materially 
enhance the number of relations per person that can be re- 
adjusted per unit of time. In other words, the span of control of 
a spontaneous system, divided by the number of its members, 
increases proportionately to this number, while the span of 
control of a corporate system, divided by the number of its 
ultimate subordinates, is practically unaffected by an increase 
in the size of the system. Or alternatively: the span of control 
of the former type of system may be said to increase with the 
square of its size, while that of the latter goes only propor- 
tionately to size. 


u 9 

An authority charged with replacing by deliberate direction 
the functions of a large self-adjusting system, would be placed 
in the position of a man charged with controlling single-handed 
a machine requiring for its operation the simultaneous working 
of thousands of levers. Its legal powers would avail it nothing. 
By insisting on them, it could only paralyse a system which it 
failed to govern. 

I have avoided so far any reference to the absolute number of 
adjustable relations within a group, for this is a very uncertain 
magnitude. But the use of comparative numbers, which I 
have adopted instead, has brought with it an undesirable degree 
of abstraction. It may be worth while, therefore, to reformulate 
the argument in more concrete terms, even at the risk of some 
drastic over-simplification. 

Fig. i. 

Look at the organizational chart of a corporate authority, 
reduced to its bare bones. For simplicity’s sake let us take the 
span of control to be 3 throughout the pyramid of authority. 
In Fig 1 I have drawn the chart for a pyramid of four levels. 
There is the chief at the top and 27 ultimate subordinates at 
the base ; there are two tiers of intermediate superiors between 
them. The chart is set out in space to show the relations con- 
trolled at each level by the superiors at the higher level. Each 
particular relation is indicated by a dotted line, connecting the 
units which it relates. The total number r of these relations is 
seen to be: 

y === 3 -■}- 3 ^ 3^ 

and in general: r =3 + 3 2 • • • • 3 ,_1 > where l is the total 
number of levels. At the same time, the number m of ultimate 
subordinates at the base of the pyramid is 3 ,_1 , so that the 
ratio i =* rjm, which measures the number of relations per 



person governed by the corporate body, comes out as : 

i = 3 2- ' + 3 s_i + • • • 
=(i/3y- 2 + (i/3)'- 8 + 

+ 3 , "‘ 

• • • + *• 

Thus for / = 2 the complexity of relatedness i has its minimum 
value i and this value increases with an increasing number of 
levels asymptotically to 3/2. Had we assumed a larger span of 
control — which would be closer to the truth — the increase 
would be even less. It is always negligible. The same holds, of 
course, for the number of relations adjusted per person per 
unit of time, if we assume (as before) that the rate at which 

Fig. 2. 

superiors issue their instructions remains constant as the height 
of the pyramid is increased by the addition of new levels. 

For comparison, we now turn to a system of spontaneous 
order; instead of the 9 ultimate subordinates, we shall consider 
9 members of such a system. We may imagine them arranged in 
a circle as in Fig. 2, with connecting lines indicating the 
relation of each to the others. From each member there issue 
eight lines, or in general m-l lines, if m is the number of members 
of the self-adjusting system. Thus the complexity of related- 
ness, and with it the rate of readjustment of relations per 
person — instead of remaining practically unchanged as in the 



case of an increase in the size of a corporate body — is seen to 
mount up proportionately to the membership of a system of 
spontaneous order. We arrive here at the same result as before. 

The fact that for large systems, the administrative span of 
control exercised by spontaneous mutual adjustment becomes 
overwhelmingly greater than that of a corporate body of 
corresponding size, seems to me so important and yet — in spite 
of its massiveness — in a way so elusive, that I shall give yet a 
third variant of its demonstration, this time avoiding all algebra. 

Take a group of three ultimate subordinates under one 
superior at the base of the pyramid in Fig. i. Any one of these 
will have relations of the same complexity in respect to any 
other member of the group, as if the group formed a self- 
adjusting system. (The rate of readjustment of relations per 
member will be less, for adjustment by a superior is slower than 
self-adjustment — but we need not consider this here.) Examine 
now the relations of any member of one group to a member of 
any other group of ultimate subordinates. We can see that these 
relations are of two kinds. There is one kind of relationship 
between the members of different groups, having a common 
superior at a level just above that of their direct superior. 
This relationship may be compared to that between first 
cousins. Each ultimate subordinate in Fig. i has six administra- 
tive first cousins. There is a second kind of relationship between 
ultimate subordinates in Fig. i, which makes them administra- 
tive second cousins, as their common superior is placed one 
level higher than that of first cousins; in Fig. i each ultimate 
subordinate has 18 second cousins. 

Consider more closely the relations between first cousins. 
Their common superior receives reports about the situation 
and achievements of the different groups to which the first 
cousins belong, and issues orders to the official in charge of 
these different groups. This process co-ordinates the activities 
of the groups as wholes and will in general aifect all the members 
of one group jointly in their relation to all the members of 
another group. Take, for example, as groups of ultimate sub- 
ordinates the crews of several small craft under the command 
of their captains and suppose that the ships form a fleet under 
the command of one senior officer. Orders issued by the officer 
will affect the relations between all sailors in a pair of different 



vessels in a similar manner. They will not adjust — as the 
captains of each craft do — any specific individual relation 
between members of the same crew. As a result, no individual 
relations of any kind will be established between members of 
different crews. This is generally true for all relations between 
administrative cousins and becomes increasingly marked for 
second and third cousins, etc. These are adjusted to one another 
in blocks of increasing sizes and the adjustment between the 
members of such blocks is wholesale and undifferentiated. 

This shows once more the comparatively small span of 
control exercised by corporate authority and that if any attempt 
were made to replace a spontaneous system by a corporate 
order, it would result in cutting down to a tiny fraction the 
operations of any large system of that kind. 

Opinions on Central Planning 

One would hardly expect to find under these circumstances 
any serious suggestion of replacing the functions of a major 
self-adjusting system by the directions of a central authority. 
Yet contemporary thought is pervaded by the fallacy of central 
planning, particularly as regards industrial production. The 
belief prevails widely that direct physical controls, consciously 
applied from one centre, can in general fully replace adjust- 
ments spreading automatically through a network of market 
relations. It underlies the Socialist movement and is even 
shared, in more attenuated forms, by most of those who oppose 
Socialism. The rigorous free-traders, for example, who urgently 
warn against the danger of enslavement by economic planning, 
thereby imply (often without intending it) that economic 
planning is feasible, though at the price of liberty. Indeed, a 
great deal of public discussion on Socialist policy in Britain 
appears to be based to-day on the supposition, that a fully 
directed economic system could be established by adopting the 
necessary totalitarian measures. 

The studies by professional economists to the feasibility of 
central economic planning have pursued a tortuous course. 
Before the Russian Revolution the question had not been 
examined systematically, but as early as 1920 Professor 
Ludwig v. Mises started a critique of Socialism on the grounds 



that in the absence of a market for factors of production these 
could not be rationally allocated to industrial plants and that, 
in consequence, a centrally directed economy could not func- 
tion. His book, Die Gemeinwirtschaft, first published in 1922 
(and later, in a revised English translation, under the title 
Socialism, in 1936), elaborated this criticism in detail. The 
subsequent developments of the discussion were, I believe, 
again largely determined by events in Russia. At the time of 
L. v. Mises’ first writing, the meanings of Socialism and central 
economic planning were (as I shall show later in this paper) 
unquestioningly identified with the elimination of the market 
as a means of allocating resources and its replacement by a 
system of direct central allocations. The attempt made in 
Russia during the period extending from 1919 to March 1921, 
to establish such a system broke down in chaos as v. Mises had 
rightly predicted ; nor did the subsequent retreat to capitalism 
under the N.E.P. during 1921-1928 bring any evidence to con- 
tradict his thesis. But once the Five-Year Plans got under way 
the situation seemed to have radically altered. This certainly 
was Socialism in the sense of State ownership and it also seemed 
to be a centrally directed economy. Yet it undoubtedly was a 
functioning economy; whatever its failings, the system could 
not be said to be utterly devoid of rationality. 

It seems to me that in response to this new phase in Russia, 
both the opponents and adherents of Socialism somewhat 
changed their grounds. An eminent critic of Socialism, Pro- 
fessor F. H. Knight, joined issue with v. Mises by pointing out 
that economic theory did not contradict the possibility of a 
centrally directed economy. 1 It only required that such an 
economy should be administered according to marginal 

The position reached by Knight on these grounds is im- 
portant and shall be illustrated here by a few quotations from 
the paper just mentioned. Knight uses the term “collectivism” 
(p. 258) to designate what I call a centrally directed economy. 
Of this he says: “ . . . there is no difficulty in imagining, that 
the constitution and laws of a society might be changed from, 
say, the form which they have in the United States at this 

1 The Place of Marginal Economics in a Collective System, American 
Economic Review , 1936, Supplement, p. 259. 



moment to the form of a thoroughgoing collectivism and that 
most of the individuals in the country should continue to do 
substantially the same things and to enjoy the same fruits of 
their activity as before” (p. 258). The proviso is made that the 
State power should have “an ideally honest and competent 
administrative system” at its service. “There are several funda- 
mental respects” — it is added — “in which the economy of a 
collectivist system would be enormously simplified in com- 
parison with private property.” The trade cycle would be 
eliminated, the problem of taxation ideally solved, the harms of 
monopoly avoided (p. 263). Yet the collectivist system is 
rejected by Knight on the grounds that it would give the 
government “absolute power over the lives of its citizens”. 1 

Knight seems to conclude here (perhaps from Stalin’s 
Five-Year Plans) that centrally directed economy can be worked 
by a totalitarian political system. Similar views, disseminated 
particularly through v. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom (1944), 
have become widely accepted. Professor v. Mises himself seems 
to move towards them in his recent writings when asserting 
that a planned economy involves totalitarianism. 2 They seem 
to permeate much of J. Jewkes’s critique of the British Socialist 
experiment in his Ordeal by Planning (1948). 

The new Socialist school of thought which rapidly gained 
vigour from 1933 onwards maybe regarded as another response 
to the Five-Year Plans. Its representatives, H. D. Dickinson, 3 
Oscar Lange, 4 A. P. Lemer, 6 J. E. Meade 6 and E. F. M. 
Durbin, 7 opposed the argument of v. Mises on the grounds that 

1 In a later paper published in Ethics (1940) and reprinted in his book 
Freedom and Reform , pp. 129-162, Professor Knight discusses Socialism on 
the basis of the proposals for a publicly owned marketing economy, in the 
sense of Oscar Lange, A. P. Lerner and others. Since such proposals involve 
in my view the abandonment of a centrally directed economy, their critique 
by Professor Knight does not refer to the problem with which I am concerned 

2 “Men must choose between the market economy and socialism. The 
State can preserve the market economy in protecting life, health and private 
property against violent and fraudulent aggression; or it can itself control 
the conduct of all production activities. If it is not the consumers by means 
of demand and supply on the market, it must be the government by 
compulsion.* * L. von Mises, Planned Chaos (1947)* P* 34 * 

8 Economic Journal j June 1933; Economics of Socialism, 1938. 

4 Economic Journal, Oct., 1936; The Economic Theory of Socialism, 193b. 

6 Review of Economic Studies, Oct., 1934. 

• Economic Analysis and Policy , 1936. 

7 Economic Journal, Dec., 1936. 



public ownership did not exclude the use of the market for 
allocating resources between enterprises. They propose the 
combination of the two as a solution to the difficulties pointed 
out by v. Mises. 

The outcome of this line of thought was most peculiar. 
Unnoticed both by its advocates and its critics, modern 
Socialist theory, by adopting the principles of commerce, has 
quietly abandoned the cardinal claim of Socialism: the central 
direction of industrial production. Apart from calling his 
chief economic authority by the name of Central Planning 
Board, Oscar Lange (1938) makes no reference to planning 
in the proper sense. Mr. Dickinson (1938) opens his book with 
a declaration favouring resolute centralized planning; but by the 
time he developed his scheme the result is this: 

“In one or two matters, perhaps, considerations of social policy 
would be planned on their merits. . . . The great majority of lines 
of production would be carried on automatically within the 
given framework of costs and prices so as to supply goods to 
consumers according to their preference as indicated by the 
market” (p. 222). 

From the original Socialist point of view, Mr. M. Dobb’s 
lonely protest against this school of thought appears thoroughly 
justified. “Either planning means overriding the autonomy of 
separate decisions [he writes] or apparently it means nothing at 
all.” 1 And he proceeds to pour ridicule on the whole scheme: 
“That in a socialist economy it should be thought necessary for 
managers of various plants, having ascertained the various data 
about productivity, to play an elaborate game of bidding for 
capital on the market, instead of transmitting the information 
direct to some planning authority, is a ‘Heath Robinson’ kind 
of suggestion which it is hard to take seriously. Moreover, it has 
the positive disadvantage that in playing such a game the man- 
agers of socialist enterprises would be as much ‘in blinkers’ 
as to the concurrent decisions made elsewhere, as are private 
entrepreneurs to-day, and thus would be subject to a similar 
degree of competitive uncertainty.” 2 

To me it seems that these varied, shifting and obscure ideas 

1 M. Dobb, Political Economy and Capitalism (revised edition, 1940), 

P- * 75 - 

a ibid, p. 305. 



concerning economic planning, all reflect the same essential 
deficiency. They lack throughout the clear recognition of the 
fact that a centrally directed industrial system is administratively 
impossible — impossible in the same sense in which it is im- 
possible for a cat to swim the Atlantic. 

Rarely does one find this pointed out. Leo Trotsky is one 
who placed it on record. In 1918-1920 he had been himself the 
protagonist of a rigorously centralized system. But later, 
chastened no doubt by its disastrous results, he declared that it 
would require a Universal Mind as conceived by Laplace to 
make a success of such a system. 1 Professor A. P. Lerner, 2 
quoting Trotsky with vigorous approval, adds that any attempt 
to realize the central direction of economic life must inevitably 
collapse in administrative chaos. I have also found one reasoned 
statement of this view. Mr. J. E. Meade has given it as early as 
1935 3 in the following passage, discussing the scope of a Plan- 
ning Commission charged with allocating productive resources 
to the exclusion of their distribution through the market : 

“No amount of consultation with engineers and technicians 
will enable the commission to make sure whether by shifting a 
little of this raw material from A to B and a little of this land from 
B to C, a little of this grade of labour from C to A and of this 
machinery from C to E and a little of this raw material from D to 
E and some of this land from E to A it is possible to increase the 
output of A without changing the output of any other product.’ ’ 

This expresses it clearly that the impossibility of central 
economic direction lies in the much shorter span of control of 
a corporate body as compared with a self-adjusted system. My 
task has been to demonstrate this disparity in semi-quantitative 

An Experiment in Central Planning 

It may be inevitable that with our growing sophistication 
speculative excesses should increasingly determine the course 
of history; it is also perhaps pardonable that great hopes thus 
misplaced should incent men to riot, cruelty and destruction; 

1 Trotsky, Soviet Economy in Danger (1931). 

8 A. P. Lerner, Economics of Control (1944), pp. 62, 98, 119. 

8 J. E. Meade, Economic Analysis and Policy (1935), p. 199. 



but it is surely insufferable that lessons gained at such sacrifice 
should be allowed wilfully to be obscured and thrust into obli- 
vion. The attempt to establish a centrally directed economy 
during the early years of the Russian Revolution — which was 
paid for by the death of over five million people — must not be 
allowed to be erased from history. It should be retained as a 
decisive experience of mankind. 

The experiment of Central Planning in Russia was intro- 
duced gradually in 1919, increasingly sharpened throughout 
1920 and then terminated — to avoid further disaster — in 
March, 1921. During some of that period, civil war was still 
in progress in parts of the country and the Soviet Government 
has ever since tried to conceal the catastrophic failure of 
central planning, by falsely attributing the need for the eco- 
nomic policy of the time and its devastating results to the 
exigencies of war. Hence the official description of that phase 
as “War Communism”. 

Yet contemporary evidence is clear and conclusive. I 
shall give just a few brief illustrations of it. A typical statement 
which I shall reproduce here in the enthusiastic italics of the 
author, is a passage from a pamphlet by W. P. Miljutin, 1 dated 
29th June, 1920, and published by the Communist International 
in 1921. “All enterprises”, he writes, “and all branches of 
industry are considered as one enterprise . . . . The unity of the 
centralized economy , which is organized according to plan by 
the authorities of the Soviet Union . . . that is the economic 
organization of the Soviet power”. According to this report, 
centralization was in fact very far-reaching. Each plant reported 
directly, or indirectly, to the Supreme Economic Council and 
received its production programme allotted to it from there. 
Plants directly controlled by the Supreme Economic Council 
received their raw material assigned to them directly by the 
Council, while locally administered plants were supplied by the 
local board in question. All plants received their business 
capital from the centre and were provided with rations for their 
workers by the Food Commissariat, acting in conjunction with 
the Supreme Economic Council. All products, including those 

1 W. P. Miljutin, Die Organisation der V olkszvirtschaft in Sowjet Russ land, 
Verlag der Kommunistischen Internationale. Auslieferungsstelle ftir 
Deutschland: Verlagsbuchhandlung Karl Heym Nachf., Hamburg. The 
book is dated by the author: 29th June, 1920. 


of the territorially administered industries, were to be delivered 
to the Supreme Economic Council and centrally distributed 
through its “Utilization Department”. Products used for pro- 
duction purposes were allotted to the respective industries, 
while finished industrial products were distributed to consumers 
through a section working in conjunction with the Commissariat 
for Food. 

Foodstuffs and agricultural raw materials were obtained by 
requisitioning and to a smaller part from Soviet estates. Follow- 
ing on the nationalization of the banks on 14th December, 
1917, 1 the use of money was discouraged, neglected and dis- 
credited in every way. The following statement made in 1918 
by the Commissariat for Finance is typical of the reference to 
money in the Communist literature of the period : 

“When the main part of our socialist programme is carried out, 
money will become superfluous as an instrument of exchange and 
distribution; and will be abolished . . . with the passing of power 
to the proletariat, economy as regards the state purse is quite 
unnecessrry. . . . Strict calculation, economy in spending and 
conformity of revenue to expenditure are not essential .” 2 

The major part of all wages was paid in kind (pajki), this 
process having become the main channel for distributing goods 
to the consumers. L. Kritzmann, writing in August, 1920, 3 
describes this system and concludes that: “Legal trade has 
almost completely ceased to exist; it is replaced by the dis- 
tributive organs of the State.” 

The consequences of this policy showed themselves in a 
complete breakdown of the productive apparatus. The major 
industries of the country — which had been entirely brought 
under governmental control — came virtually to a standstill. 
The towns, unable to feed themselves by offering industrial 
goods to the farmers, were ravaged by famine. Large parts of 
their population drifted into the countryside. 4 The government 

1 Boris Brutzkus, Economic Planning in Soviet Russia (1935), p. 100. 

2 Quoted by L. Lawton, An Economic History of Soviet Russia , p. 100. 
See also reference to Eighth Congress of the Soviets, ibid, p. 108. 

8 I. Larin and L. Kritzmann, Wirtschaftsleben und Wirtschaftlicher 
Aufbau in Sowjet Russland , 1917-1920. Verlag der Kommunistischen 
Internationale. Auslieferungsstelle fttr Deutschland: Verlagsbuchhandlung 
Carl Heym, Nachf. Hamburg (1921). 

4 For a description of these disasters see the Official History of the 
Bolshevik Party (1938). 



tried to redress the balance by requisitioning food by force from 
the still privately managed farmsteads. In the ensuing struggle, 
the peasants proved the stronger. Peasant risings, followed by 
strikes in Leningrad factories and a mutiny of the sailors of 
Kronstadt, finally forced Lenin in March, 1921, to repeal the 
whole system. By that time, however, the peasants had reduced 
sowing to less than 50 per cent, of the areas sown in 1913. A 
famine ensued, which according to recent estimates, cost 
5.5 million lives. 1 

Most of the Communist commentators of the time continued 
to praise, in the very midst of the rapidly spreading catastrophe, 
the achievements of the new economic system. 2 But by the end 
of 1920, some of the leaders at any rate were having mis- 
givings concerning the task they had embarked upon. Stalin, 
for one, had certainly ceased to think that the economy of a 
collective system was particularly simple to run. Speaking on the 
7th November, 1920, Stalin complained in the following terms 
of the special difficulties in building up Communism: 

“. . . we were building not bourgeois economy where everyone 
pursues his own private interests and does not worry about the 
state as a whole, pays no heed to the question of planned, organized 
economy on a national scale. No, we were building a socialist 
society. This means that the needs of the society as a whole have 
to be taken into consideration, that economy has to be organized 
on all-Russian scale in a planned, conscious manner. No doubt 
this task is incomparably more complicated and more difficult .” 3 * * * * 8 

There is on record also a most illuminating speech made by 
Trotsky in (or about) December 1920, justifying before a 
national organization of women workers the hardships of the 
time as due to the inherent difficulties of a centrally directed 
production. I shall give here only one sentence, ruefully 
referring to the facile assumptions of central planners : 

1 Frank Lorrimer, The Population of the Soviet Union; League of 
Nations, Geneva, 1946. 

2 “[The 1 experiences of the last years have proven that the machinery of 

the economic dictatorship of the proletariat is functioning securely and 

according to plan. Economic life is being effectively directed and in place of 

the chaotic, atomized, capitalist economy there is gradually emerging a 

uniform economic life, built up according to socialist principles.* * — 

Miljutin, loc. cit., p. 13. 

8 J. Stalin, The October Revolution , Martin Lawrence, London. (Printed 
in the Soviet Union.) 



“All this is easily said, but even in a small farm of 500 desjatines, 
in which there are various agricultural branches represented, it is 
necessary to preserve certain proportions; to regulate our vast, 
far-flung, disorganized economic life so that the various boards 
should maintain the necessary cross-connections and feed each 
other, so to speak — for example when it is necessary to build 
workers* houses, one board should give so many nails as the other 
gives planks and the third building materials — to achieve such 
proportionality, such internal correspondence, that is a difficult 
task which the Soviet power has yet to achieve. 1,1 

It almost seems as if the first inkling had already reached 
Trotsky at this time of the need for a Universal Mind to cope 
with the problem of a centrally directed economy. 

The disastrous collapse of the experiment, made in Soviet 
Russia in the years 1919-1921 for the establishment of a 
centrally directed economy, is the key to the understanding of 
the economic policy of Russia in the years that followed. An 
essential part of that policy was to make the world forget the 
original aims of Socialism and its abysmal failure at its first 
trial, while trying to dress up as a planned economy a productive 
system operating through the market. For this policy it was 
necessary to misrepresent the planning experiment of the 
period 19 19- 1921 as mere emergency legislation, designed to 
meet the temporary requirements of the blockade and the 
civil war. Since this version of history has been widely accepted 
by Western writers, a few more remarks may be added in its 

The measures taken by the government to establish a 
system of Socialist Planning could, on internal evidence, have 
nothing to do with the blockade, the civil war or the wars of 
intervention. For no financial authority would expressly re- 
joice as the Soviet Government did in the spread of a runaway 
inflation because it is conducting a war, or is being faced by a 
blockade. Moreover, none of the decrees or resolutions issued 
by the Soviet authorities and representative bodies of the 
Soviet Union for the purpose of establishing a Socialist Planned 
Economy, do so much as mention the war or the blockade, or 
give the slightest hint that the measures proposed or decreed 
are meant to be temporary, to be reversed in peace-time. The 
contrary is true. They are considered as the first stage in the 

1 Russische Rundschau (Moskow), issue of 22nd December, 1920, p. 7. 



process of achieving even more complete central control of 
industry. Besides, by the autumn of 1920 all fighting had 
ceased in and around Soviet Russia. Yet the campaign towards 
the establishment of planned economy went on until the 
riots of March 1921 forced its sudden abandonment. In the 
speech quoted above (made on 7th November, 1920), Stalin, 
looking back on “the first great difficulties in constructing 
Socialism” and welcoming the return, at last, to conditions of 
peace, makes no reference to any proposed change of policy, 
but suggests on the contrary that further progress on Socialist 
lines would henceforth be easier in view of the cessation of 
hostilities. Nor does the speech of Trotsky of December 1920, 
also dealing with the difficulties of Socialism, give any hint 
of the alleged connection between war and Socialist planning. 
The records show in fact quite plainly that the measures taken 
to establish a centrally planned economy were redoubled in the 
period following the return of peaceful conditions. This was 
clearly described by Farbman as follows: 1 “ ‘The decree for the 
complete nationalization of all industries, including small-scale 
enterprise* (that is to say, all undertakings employing more than 
ten workers, and also all those employing more than five 
workers if with mechanical power) was issued ‘under date 
30th November, 1920 : the decree that the levying of taxes was to 
cease, because money no longer functioned as a means of pay- 
ment, under date 3rd February, 1921. In December 1920 . . . the 
Eighth Soviet Congress passed the most Utopian of all the 
resolutions of the days of War Communism, the resolution 
concerning the socialization of peasant agriculture. Special 
committees were to be appointed to prescribe the scope and the 
kind of cultivation to be practised on every one of the twenty- 
five millions of peasant farms.* Peasant farming, said this 
resolution, ‘must be conducted in accordance with a unified 
plan, under a unified management*.** 

The Webbs, though they quote Farbman’s evidence proving 
the contrary, still accept Lenin’s explanation given after the 
event, that “military communism** was meant only as “a 
provisional measure** in response to the necessities of war. 2 

1 After Lenin , by Michael Farbman (1924), p. 41, quoted by S. and B. 
Webb, in Soviet Communism , (1935), Vol. I, p. 544. 

a S. and B. Webb, Soviet Communism (193 5), Vol. I., p. 544. 



This is repeated by M. Dobb in his Soviet Economic Development 
since 1917 (1948). 1 

There can actually be no doubt that the economic disaster 
of 1921 was caused by the administrative chaos ensuing from the 
attempt of a centrally operated economic system. The con- 
temporary Soviet leaders whom I mentioned, when dealing with 
the economic hardships of the time, emphasized that these had 
their origin in the difficulty of building up Socialism. There are 
utterances on record by leaders like Preobrazensky and Lenin, 
immediately after the collapse of the attempt at a centrally 
planned economy, referring to the fact that since the return of 
peace people had found these hardships unbearable, as they 
realized that they were not merely temporary effects of war-like 
conditions. It is enough to quote on this point the Official 
History of the Bolshevik Party , published in 1938: 

“As long as the war lasted [it says] people acquiesced to these 
deficiencies and hardships; they mostly did not even notice them. 
But now that the war was over, people suddenly realized that 
these defects and hardships were unbearable and demanded their 
immediate termination.” 

The connection between cause and effect in this matter 
seems to be conclusively proven by the last phase which brought 
the experiment to an end and also by the subsequent course of 
events. We have, firstly, the uprising of peasants and of workers 
and sailors demanding the restoration of trade — ‘‘The Soviets 
without the Communist Party!” 2 Secondly, Lenin’s decision 
in March 1921, immediately following on the quelling of the 
revolt, to cancel some of the fundamental measures of a centrally 
directed economy and to permit their replacement by com- 
mercial relations, followed by a series of measures restoring one 
feature of capitalism after another. We have, lastly, an economic 
recovery of unparalleled steepness, achieved immediately on 

1 Mr. Dobb’s account of the events does not materially differ from that 
given in my text, which was completed before his book came out. Yet he 
rejects as superficial the view that the Soviet government actually tried to 
establish Communism at that time and met with disaster in consequence. 
The only contemporary evidence adduced by him for this view is an irrelevant 
remark of Lenin “that the aid of the printing press can only be regarded as 
a temporary measure’ \ This is followed by the usual quotations from Lenin 
and other Soviet writers before and after the event. On such slender grounds 
does Mr. Dobb give renewed circulation to the fundamental misrepresenta- 
tion of history fabricated by Lenin and his followers. 

2 S. and B. Webb, Soviet Communismy Vol. I, p. 545. (1938). 


the abandonment of central economic direction and on the 
re-establishment of capitalistic commerical relations. 

The early phase of the Russian Revolution thus presents 
an experiment, as clear as history is ever likely to provide, in 
which (1) Socialist economic planning was pressed home; 
(2) this had eventually to be abandoned on the grounds that the 
measures adopted had caused an unparalleled economic disaster, 
and (3) the abandonment of the Socialist measures and the 
restoration of capitalist methods of production retrieved 
economic life from disaster and set it on the road to rapid 

The Illusion of Central Planning 

But am I not proving too much? Surely the planet to-day 
is bristling with governments committed to economic planning 
and filling fat volumes with columns of figures, setting out 
Four-Year Plans and Five-Year Plans; putting out every now 
and then hectic reports on the progress made in the execution 
of these plans. Are these governments not actually doing — and 
massively achieving in the face of the whole world — precisely 
that of which I have so rigorously proved the complete in- 
feasibility? 1 

The confrontation does not embarrass my argument. 
I still maintain that whatever these governments may be actually 
doing, the sets of figures which they embody in their elaborate 
economic plans have little bearing on their achievements. 
Malinowski has pointed out that the attribution of magical 
powers to chieftains lends them an authority for leadership, 
which is indispensable to the society under their dominion. 
The economic plans of to-day probably have as much practical 
value for the good government of people who believe in them 
as had the magical formulae of old ; but no more. 

1 In the short time since this essay was written and first published, this 
practice has been so rapidly going out of fashion this side of the Iron Curtain, 
that it seems necessary to recall a few examples of the kind of detailed plans 
I am referring to. A famous one was the “Monnet Plan” (see Rapport 
General sur le Premier Plan de Modernisation et d } equipment, Nov. 1946-Jan., 
1947, issued by the Presidence du Governement, Commissariat General du 
Plan du Modernisation et d’Equipment, Paris.) A detailed Four-Years 
Plan of the Marshall countries was issued in Reports of the Committee of 
European Co-operation, July-Sept. 1947; Vol. I., General Report; Vol. II, 
Technical Reports. See also the British Economic Surveys 1947 and 1948 
(White Papers). 



This follows already from what had been said before, but in 
view of the great importance of the question, I want to prove 
my point once more, directly. A few preliminary remarks may 
serve to introduce this. Obviously, a system of spontaneous 
order may have corporate bodies as its members; industrial 
corporations can be seen mutually adjusted to the use of the same 
market of resources and selling their goods in the same con- 
sumers’ market. The operations of each corporate body may be 
said to proceed according to a plan, and the idea of overall 
central direction involves, therefore, a fusion of the several 
plans to one single comprehensive plan. If, as we maintain, the 
idea of central direction replacing the functions of self-adjusted 
order is absurd, then the idea of this fusion must also be absurd. 

Bearing this in mind, let us now examine the structure of a 
national production plan. Such plans state the sum of various 
types of goods and services that are to be produced. The 
products are divided into classes and sub-classes. We may see 
for example Industry and Agriculture as our main divisions. 
Then Industry may be subdivided into Production of Raw 
Materials, Finished Products and Industrial Services, while 
Agriculture may again fall into parts, such as Food Production, 
Forestry and Raw Materials for Industry. Each of these classes 
can be subdivided again into sub-classes and this process can 
be continued until we finally come down to the proposed 
quantities of individual products, which form the ultimate items 
of the plan. 

At first sight, this looks exactly like a true plan, namely like a 
comprehensive purpose elaborated in detail through successive 
stages; the kind of plan, in fact, which can be carried out only 
by appropriate central direction. 

But in reality such an alleged plan is but a meaningless 
summary of an aggregate of plans, dressed up as a single plan. 
It is as if the manager of a team of chess-players were to find 
out from each individual player what his next move was going 
to be and would then sum up the result by saying: “The plan 
of my team is to advance 45 pawns by one place, move 20 
bishops by an average of three places, 15 castles by an average of 
four places, etc.” He could pretend to have a plan for his team, 
but actually he would be only announcing a nonsensical 
summary of an aggregate of plans. 



In order to press home this illustration, let us see wherein 
lies exactly the impossibility of conducting a hundred games of 
chess by central direction. Why would it be absurd to make one 
person responsible for the moves of all castles, another for all 
bishops, etc.? The answer is that the moving of any particular 
castle or bishop constitutes “a move in chess” only in the 
context of the moves (and possible moves) of the other pieces 
in the same game. It ceases to be “a move in chess” and is 
consequently meaningless in the context of the moves of all 
castles, or of all bishops, in a hundred different games. Such a 
context is a senseless collocation, falsely described as a 
purpose; whence the absurdity of entrusting a person with 
carrying out this fictitious purpose. 

In effect, the absurdity of the statement: “The plan of this 
team is to move 45 pawns, 20 bishops, 15 castles, etc.”, lies in 
three facts: (1) it regards several moves in each game of chess 
independently of their context and thus refers to entities which 
— in this context — are meaningless; (2) it collocates these 
meaningless entities to a (necessarily meaningless) aggregate 
and (3) it refers to this aggregate as to a purposeful action. More 
generally speaking, the manager’s statement is absurd for it 
describes as a coherent action an irrelevant collocation of the 
meaningless fragments of several coherent actions. 

All this can be said also of an overall economic plan, which 
announces as a national purpose an aggregate of various outputs. 
The figures listed in such a plan (such as tons of wheat to be 
harvested, barrels of oil to be refined, passengers to be trans- 
ported) represent the sum of the outputs of several plants. 
When these outputs are thus added up, they are taken out of 
their economic context and regarded merely as processes of 
physical change. But the physical operation of a plant is in 
itself not a “process of production” at all, any more than the 
physical process of moving a chessman is in itself a “move in 
chess”. (A plant, when working regardless of market conditions, 
would almost certainly be found — when brought into its proper 
economic context — to be operating destructively rather than 
productively.) The forming of aggregates of economically 
indeterminate operations is again meaningless — the sum of the 
output of two plants for example is no more a rational entity 
than the move of two castles in two games of chess. 



Therefore (though with certain qualifications to be men- 
tioned presently) for any national body to aim at a total of so 
many bushels of wheat harvested, or barrels of oil refined, or 
passenger miles travelled, or at any of the other items of pro- 
duction which fill the columns of an overall economic plan, is 
without any meaning. A particular sum of outputs could be 
rationally desired only in view of the reasons which make 
individual managers decide, after weighing up all alternative 
lines of production, on the sizes of the individual outputs 
constituting the sum. But the adding up of individual outputs 
to a production target eliminates all the proper reasons for which 
the individual plant managers might decide to produce such 
outputs as would add up to the totals set out in the plan, and 
there is then no reason left why these totals should be desired, 
nor any sense in planning them to be of any particular size. 

If, nevertheless, production targets for wheat, oil, or trans- 
port of passengers, etc., do not sound as absurd as the proposed 
sum of pawns and castles to be moved by a team of chess- 
players, this is due to the presence in this case of a measure of 
rationality which, though quite insufficient to justify central 
economic planning, helps to cover up its fundamental absurdity. 

First, while in general it is quite irrational to aim at any 
particular production target, there exist special conditions, for 
example in wartime, when almost every alternative to certain 
desired lines of production may be disregarded, and hence a 
production target may be rationally set out of so many tanks or 
aeroplanes. Actually even in wartime the method of thinking in 
aggregate targets, though indispensable, is fraught with the 
danger of irrational consequences. The rival pursuits of a 
number of targets will obstruct each other in a thousand 
unexpected ways and the allocation of resources to alternative 
targets will eventually have to take place in a scramble of 
competing departments, between whose rival claims no rational 
choice can be made and who are therefore reduced to snapping 
up and hoarding whatever resources they can lay hands on. 
However, there may be no better way of conducting large- 
scale production of extreme urgency in wartime, and the system 
of targets is therefore justified in these conditions. 

Secondly, however irrational it may normally be to aim at 
production targets, the sums of goods produced are not in 



themselves meaningless. Given the functioning of an interna- 
tional self-adjusting order of distribution, which ascribes a 
world-price to each type of commodity — thus defining the rate 
at which each is voluntarily exchanged for any other type of 
commodity — we may regard the total price of the aggregate 
national product as a measure of national prosperity. It will 
reflect the standard of living of the people and also measure 
their military potential. And of course, there exist policies which 
may raise these national assets and it is rational to devise such 
policies and pursue them. 

Governments committed to economic planning will embark 
to the full on every line of action that offers occasions — even 
though not entirely rational occasions — for some form of central 
intervention. In extreme cases, like that of the Soviets, the 
government may undertake to finance the whole of industry and 
keep check on its operations by a kind of ubiquitous Treasury 
Control. Extensive governmental investments and the respon- 
sibility for keeping plants in operation, will tend to produce 
inflation and necessitate widespread price controls, which will 
add to the economic responsibility of the State . 1 

The columns of figures set out in governmental economic 
plans express claims to economic powers that are only imaginary. 
But belief in such powers may be induced by carrying out with 
great emphasis some fairly extensive economic policies — which 
cause a certain amount of stress and strain — and pretending 
that you are thereby putting into effect your economic plan, with 
all its figures. This procedure follows the common practice 
of magic ritual. By draping yourself in black cloth, you attract 
dark clouds and by sprinkling water you make the rain come 
down. The absence of practical results does not disturb those 
who believe in magic, and the same is true for those who believe 
in economic planning. This is notoriously so for Russian 
planners and has been strikingly exposed also for their British 
counterparts by J. Jewkes in his Ordeal by Planning . 

1 Comp, my Full Employment and Free Trade (1945), pp. 67-78. 



Right through the course of history we can trace a wide- 
spread moral protest against the pursuit of commercial profits. 
To-day the abhorrence of the profit system among Socialists is 
perhaps the strongest political motive of our time. Yet somehow 
profit-seeking seems always to persist in spite of this. Even in 
Socialist Russia profits have turned up again, only slightly 
camouflaged by names like “planned surplus”, “director’s 
fund”, etc. 

I respect the moral resistance against profits as a great 
historical force, which has much humanized the system of 
money-making in the course of the past hundred years, and I 
think there is a great deal more to be done in that direction. 
But I consider the Socialist desire to eliminate commercial 
profits as the principal guide to economic activity to be pro- 
foundly mistaken. There exists no radical alternative to the 
capitalist system. “Planned production for community con- 
sumption” is a myth . 2 While the State must continue to 
canalize, correct and supplement the forces of the market, it 
cannot replace them to any considerable extent. 

Subsistence Farming. The most primitive manifestation of 
profit lies in the chance of a bumper harvest to the farmer 
subsisting directly on the fruits of his land. The lucky farmer 
gets something for nothing. But no one objects to such primitive 
profits. Their recipient may be envied, but hardly reproached. 

Perhaps some may grumble at the farmer’s investment 

1 Humanitas , 1946. 

2 The phrase is quoted from the Resolution adopted by the Labour 
Party Conference of 1942. Other characteristic statements in the Interim 
Report of the Executive to the Conference are: “ . . . common ownership 
will alone secure the priority of national over private need which assures the 
community the power over its economic future” ; ”... an ugly scramble for 
profit in which there is no serious attempt to assess, in any coherent way, the 
priorities of national need.” ”... planned production in the service of the 
abundance that was open to us.” 




policy; at the way he takes away part of the crop to increase 
stock piles, or to convert it into even more permanent forms by 
raising more livestock or by feeding with it his labourers 
employed on new constructions. However, within small 
groups of cultivators these troubles can be largely avoided 
by joint ownership and common management, as shown by the 
experience of communities of the kind of the Chaluzim in 
Palestine and of other Socialist settlers. 

Money . Serious objections against profits arise only in more 
advanced societies, when the number of people who co-operate 
in producing goods for each other’s use becomes very large. 
Profits, in these circumstances, are always in money and the fact 
which requires explanation before all is that money is being 
used for the exchange of goods. 

Why money ? We must have an answer to this before we 
can discuss profits. 

The reasons why money is used have often been given, 
but — it would seem to me — never with sufficient scope to 
account fully for the incidence and the important functions of 
profits. There are actually at least four distinct reasons for the 
use of money and only all four together can make profits pro- 
perly intelligible. 

Consumption. Reason A. 1 : When millions of people produce 
goods for each other’s use, they must have some way of notifying 
each other of their desires. People’s wants are very largely of a 
subjective nature. A man who wants his lunch looks exactly 
like a man who has had his, and it would take a very elaborate 
clinical examination to distinguish objectively between the two. 
Still less can you distinguish between the vegetarian and the 
non-vegetarian, or the man who prefers mashed potatoes from 
the other who likes them boiled. But it is easy to recognize the 
hungry man with all his personal preferences by the fact that 
he offers to buy a lunch and to pay for certain dishes. 

Moreover, people’s desires and preferences are fluctuating, 
complex and delicate. James Joyce could have filled a fat 
volume in describing the half-formed inclinations in the mind 
of a woman setting out on a shopping expedition. No words 
could completely define her potential desires. Consumers 
cannot therefore be expected to present shopkeepers with an 
adequate psychological analysis of their needs. Money comes to 


their rescue. Their offer to buy certain things at certain prices 
completely reveals what they have in mind. 

Buying is, of course, often unwise. Moreover, for reasons 
to which I shall refer later, rationing becomes necessary in the 
case of sudden shortages, as for instance in war-time. These facts 
have served as arguments in favour of a maximum of rationing 
to ensure an enlightened and equitable distribution of goods. 
Against this there have been anxious and angry protests, 
exposing the clumsy and oppressive nature of a system of 
general rationing. While I fully agree with these protests, 
I shall not echo them here ; firstly because I do not think that 
any government is likely to carry very far in practice the coer- 
cion of consumers by rationing, and secondly — what is more 
important — too much emphasis on this point would tend to 
overshadow the even weightier reasons for which money is 
needed to run a modern economy. 

Reason A.2: Even if there were no difficulty whatever in 
establishing the inclinations of people to satisfy their wants, 
there would still remain a big problem to be solved for a rational 
distribution of goods. Perhaps we can make this clear by imagin- 
ing for a moment that men were robots, i.e. machines functioning 
exactly like men. They would require to be fed by a multitude 
of varied goods and sustained by a great many different services, 
exactly like ordinary human beings; but they should show an 
improvement on human beings by carrying a gauge which 
records at every moment the precise degree to which their needs 
are satisfied. This would entirely eliminate the function of 
money as a medium of expression for subjective, delicate and 
complex desires, so that the task of distributing provisions to the 
population would become purely a matter of engineering. And 
yet — I maintain — there would still be no way of carrying out this 
task rationally without the use of money. 

A rigorous proof of this assertion cannot be attempted here 
for it would take us too far into mathematics; but I shall at 
least try to outline the argument . 1 

The following preliminary considerations may be useful. 
A robot being similar to a human being, it can be equally 

1 The impossibility of solving rigorously a “polycentric” problem, i.e. 
involving the mutual adjustment of a large number of centres, is referred to in 
some mathematical detail on pp. 172 and 183. 



satisfied (to the same mark on his gauge) by an infinite variety of 
articles offered to him. Therefore any particular distribution 
of a definite batch of goods between two robots — say robots 
Number One and Two — will in general be capable of improve- 
ment. It will be possible to readjust it so as to produce greater 
satisfaction both for One and Two (or at least one of them, 
while leaving that of the other unchanged). This teaches us 
how to define a rational distribution of goods. We may say that 
when the distribution of the available goods between all robots 
is such that it is not possible to increase the gauge reading of 
any without depressing that of another, then that distribution is 
rational . 

By analysing the possibility of exchanges between robots 
in such a rational or “balanced” state of affairs, it can be shown 
that a definite exchange ratio prevails in it for every kind of 
goods. Hence, in a “balanced” state the value of commodities 
can be fixed in terms of money. We have only to fix arbitrarily 
the value of one single piece of goods — say a certain pot of jam 
to be equal to is. But the problem of rational distribution has yet 
to be defined more closely. Some assumption must be made 
about the “income distribution” between robots. This point 
can be readily disposed of by deciding, for example, on a 
system of complete equality which allocates shares of identical 
value to each robot. 

We have now defined our problem. Next we shall outline 
the method of successive approximation by which such problems 
can be solved . 1 

We want to find the distribution of available resources 
which will maximize the sum total of gauge readings for all 
robots (their respective shares being of equal value). A procedure 
of successive approximations will divide such a problem into an 
indefinitely extended series of successive stages. Only one 
centre will be considered at a time and adjusted in relation to all 
the others, while the mutual interrelations of these is taken as 
fixed for the moment. One centre after another will be singled 
out and the solution thus further re-adjusted at each step. When 
a complete set of such adjustments covering all centres will have 
been carried out, each centre may be once more re-adjusted, 
taking into account the adjustments made meanwhile at other 
1 This method is discussed further on pp. 173-4. 



centres. Whole sets of successive approximations may thus 
repeatedly be carried out and the total solution rendered more 
and more accurate. Such is the general method of approxima- 
tion by which a “poly centric” problem of the kind under 
consideration can be solved, if it can be solved at all. 

A particular form of this general method is found to apply 
to our problem. It proceeds as follows. We start by ascribing a 
price to each item of the available supplies — trying to guess as 
closely as possible at the value which it will have in a “balanced” 
state of distribution. The total of prices divided by the number 
of robots is then regarded as the “claim” of each robot. This 
claim represents in effect a sum of money in respect to which 
the robot’s share of goods will be allocated to it. Turning now to 
Robot Number One we start off on the process of distribution by 
doing on its behalf what an individual shopper would do. 
We assign to the robot a pile of provisions which gives it the 
greatest satisfaction (as measured on its gauge) within the scope of 
its quota of purchasing power. Next we proceed to spend step by 
step each robot’s money to the best of its advantage. But as we 
go on, we have to modify the “prices” so as to make certain 
that eventually supply meets demand, which necessarily leads 
to a revaluation of the piles previously allocated. So we have 
to go back again to each past allocation and somewhat re-adjust 
it. In effect — to cut a long story short — the procedure will be 
equivalent to giving each robot an equal sum of money and 
making it buy its provisions to the best of its satisfaction at 
the public stores; the prices of commodities being adjusted 
at the level which equates current supply with current 

Such is Reason A.2, for the use of money: money is indis- 
pensable as a medium for adjusting a multitude of claims to 
a maximum of total satisfaction. 

I shall now pass on to the sphere of production, where we 
shall meet very similar situations requiring the use of money. 
Their discussion will throw further light, by analogy, on 
what has just been said. 

Production . Consider thousands of factories in which millions 
of people are at work. Each factory selects from an immensely 
varied reservoir of resources a particular assortment of materials 
and grades of labour. It applies certain technical processes 



suitable to its particular circumstances. It keeps readjusting 
its requirements of resources and its methods of production, to 
adapt itself to changes in the nature of supplies and in the 
demands of consumers. 

Each factory is entrusted to a manager who is responsible 
for its operations. The success of the economic system depends 
on the managers doing their task well. But nobody can do a 
task well unless he knows what it consists in. And, if it involves 
using up labour and other scarce resources and producing at 
the expense of these resources goods for other people, it is 
desirable that there should be some check kept on the way the 
task is carried out. This should preferably be exercised by the 
prospective users of the resultant products, who should be 
empowered to make sure that the maximum possible advantage 
has been extracted from the total of utilized resources. 

Hence Reason B.i for the use of money. Business accounts 
cast up in money are a scoring-board to which managers can 
look for guidance in directing their efforts and which will also 
afford the basis for outside control over their activities. The 
score consists in the amount of money received for sales, less 
the amount spent on buying resources. The first sum is the 
measure, and — as we have seen in the previous section — the 
only practicable measure, of the satisfaction given to consumers, 
and hence it is reasonable that it should be made a maximum. 
The second sum is, as we shall presently show, the only 
practicable measure for the cost of production, which obviously 
should be reduced to a minimum. 

When people write poetry, or teach a child to read and write, 
or restore a patient’s eyesight by removing a cataract, their 
actions will carry much of their own reward in them. Those 
who feel they have done well in such matters can dispense with 
outside recognition or else demand it as of right. But this is 
not so for the production of shoe-laces, tooth brushes, razors, 
etc., which is a satisfying occupation too, but not in itself. 
It satisfies you only if you are sure that you produce what is 
wanted: what is giving satisfaction to others. Therefore you 
must measure your satisfaction in terms of theirs. And insofar 
as their satisfaction is measurable by their willingness to pay 
for your produce, you must aim at making as much money as 
possible on your sales. This will represent the proper way of 



assessing managerial achievements and will also offer the 
proper control over the manager by those whom he serves. 
This kind of control can easily be equipped with effective 
sanctions. The rewards of the manager can be readily made 
dependent on his takings from sales, be it in form of a 
premium or of promotion, etc. No system of managerial rewards 
will be rational if it does not take for its guide the manager’s 
capacity of making money. 

I have purposely omitted in this paper any discussion of 
economic justice. In the great civilizations of the past, incomes 
were grossly unequal ; much more so, it would seem, than under 
capitalism. The trend towards greater equality has been 
maintained throughout the last hundred years — and particularly 
accentuated in this country since 1939. I am convinced (and 
have elaborated this in my book Full Employment and Free 
Trade) that a system of capitalistic enterprise can be made to 
conform in this respect to any standard of social justice on which 
society is sufficiently agreed. There is no necessary reason why 
profits should lead to economic injustice. 

It is obviously reasonable that production should be con- 
ducted at a minimum cost in terms of utilized resources. And 
this is not, in general, simply a question of using less of every- 
thing. More often it presents itself in form of a choice, whether 
to use, say, less coal and less oil and use instead more labour and 
capital, plus perhaps a different quality of coal. Balances of a 
similar kind have often to be struck in other fields than industrial 
production, for example by artists or athletes. Or again by 
doctors prescribing a cure, or by designers of machinery; or 
— approaching closely the case of industrial production — by 
farmers subsisting on their own land. In all these cases the 
persons practising economy can strike a balance between 
sacrifices and achievements, which they can directly sense and 
weigh. But the factory manager who gets his resources supplied 
from outside, cannot feel directly how precious each parcel of 
it is from the point of view of society as a whole. He must have 
some external objective criterion in terms of which he can 
balance their alternative utilization ; in other words, if he is to 
use his resources rationally, he must be supplied with a 
numerical valuation for each available particle of resources. 
These numerical values must be expressed in money. In order 


to prove this, I have to pass on to Reason B.2 for the use of 

Reason B.2 will be seen to be closely analogous to Reason 
A.2. It arises from the circumstance that thousands of factory 
managers are offered millions of parcels of resources (parti- 
cularly labour and natural resources) and have to find the best 
way of utilizing the lot. 

Let us assume (to simplify our task) that we have no serious 
difficulty in calculating in advance the amount of satisfaction — 
in terms of total sales at given prices — which will result from 
any particular distribution of resources among the existing 
factories. The problem of maximizing this total is then almost 
the same as that of maximizing the total satisfaction of robots 
by an appropriate distribution of provisions among them. And 
again, the problem is, in general, quite insoluble except by some 
method of successive approximation which considers one 
centre (i.e. one factory) at a time and disregards meanwhile the 
interrelations between all the others. 

Fortunately, in this case the “satisfaction” produced at the 
several centres is expressed from the start in the same units 
— namely money. That greatly simplifies matters and makes 
possible a solution on the following lines. Each factory to be 
supplied with as much money as it requires, provided that it 
repays it at the end of a cycle of production and sale. Factories 
to be enjoined to purchase at the public stores such resources, 
the utilization of which will lead to most profitable sales. Each 
parcel of resources to go by auction to the factory which can 
make best use of it. It is implied here that the resources are at 
the disposal of some persons — called here “Producers” — who 
will sell them to the highest bidder. 1 That, in particular, 
labour will seek the highest wage and that land and other 
natural resources will similarly be brought to market as pro- 
fitably as possible by their owners. That is an integral part of 
the method. 

No other method than this — or some close variant of it — 
can be used which would be even approximately as rational in 
allocating resources to a large number of productive centres. 
Therefore “money-making” by “Producers”, who will sell 

1 In the outline on p. 161 below, these persons are called W = workers; 
L = landowners; I — investors. 



resources to Managers and by Managers who will utilize them 
and sell the produce to the Consumers, is indispensable to the 
achievement of such an allocation. 

This is Reason B.2 for the use of money. It clearly brings 
us quite close to the discussion of profits; but we are not yet 
quite ready for this. 

The Circulation of Money . The money which factory 
managers receive on loan for the purchase of resources, is paid 
out by them to the Producers and received back by them from 
the Consumers. This forms the circulation of money. The 
managers are its heart: they squirt the money into every 
particle of the social body in payment of its contribution to 
production — and they receive it back again from all these 
quarters in return for the sale of finished products. The out- 
going streams serve to allocate resources to factories, etc.; 
the incoming streams guide the produce to the users. By 
avoiding losses, the managers keep the whole process under 
control. The money which they receive for their own services 
and spend again as consumers, forms a little separate circulation 
like that of the coronary system of the heart. By this extension of 
our scheme, managers are included among “Producers”. 

Producers and Consumers are of course the same people, 
and form in effect the whole population. The devices of 
monetary circulation and money-making offer to the population 
the only possible way of rationally co-operating in the common 
exploitation of a pool of varied resources, for the production 
of a large variety of goods destined for distribution among 

Static Conditions. Yet if only production and distribution 
went on unchanged day after day, there would be no need to 
keep up the circulation of money. Circulation could then be 
used to start the system off in the right way, and be abandoned 
thereafter. Something of the kind happens whenever monetary 
methods are abandoned for some reason, in some part of the 
economic process. The schedules of production and distribution 
prevailing up to that time are usually adopted as standards for 
further operations. The “basic” rations of paper, for example, 
are still related in Britain to-day to the amount which publishers 
happened to use in 1939, when the commercial guides of pro- 
duction were first superseded by war-time controls. While 



completely static conditions of production would make the use 
of money unnecessary, the opposite extreme of large sudden 
changes may cause a temporary breakdown of the monetary 
mechanism. For example, when in the last war most of the 
natural rubber production of the world fell into Japanese hands, 
the Allied Governments were forced to confiscate all available 
rubber supplies. The alternative course of paying sufficiently 
high prices to induce holders of rubber stocks to sell these to 
munition factories rather than to private persons (for tyres, 
office floors, etc.), would have created enormous unearned 
incomes to the stock holders, which the public was not prepared 
to tolerate. 

The fact that it is useful to ration certain commodities in 
exceptional circumstances does not affect our argument, which 
denies the possibility of a central allocation of resources to 
factories and of products to consumers. For apart from a few 
cases, like the distribution of milk to schoolchildren and cod- 
liver oil to expectant mothers, rationing is purely a clumsy 
imitation of distributive schedules established previously by 
commerce. Its clumsiness is due to the fact that such a schedule 
cannot be reasonably continued in operation for any length of 
time. This applies with particular force to a schedule of pro- 
ductive resources. Any attempt to enforce a rigid central alloca- 
tion of all resources of production (labour, raw materials, 
machinery, land) to factories, would lead therefore to an almost 
immediate standstill of the whole system of production. 

Why Profits? This brings us to the heart of our question. 
I have described an economic system based on money-making. 
In such a system people are often making gains which they have 
done little or nothing to earn. Whenever anything that I 
possess becomes scarce, whether through increased demand or 
otherwise — be it my special type of skill or a commodity which 
I have in stock or which I can readily produce on my land or 
in my factory — I inevitably make a profit on it. Similarly, as a 
consumer, I make unearned money if the price of the loaf or 
of electric light goes down. The economic system is constantly 
readjusted by the incidence of such profits — and by the losses 
which occur with about equal frequency at other points. 

I have already said that in extreme instances, particularly 
in times of great national emergency, measures are taken to 



eliminate the occasion for earning large profits from sudden 
scarcities. I can well imagine that public conscience may in 
future become increasingly watchful in such matters and I think 
there is still much scope for it. Besides, my outline of a money- 
making society is not yet complete, and I shall have a number 
of qualifications to introduce and supplementary points to 

I have insisted that modern production and distribution 
can be organized only on commercial lines, but I have said 
nothing to suggest that such a solution is perfect. If somebody 
insists that you need an engine to pull a train (as against people 
who would press for running trains by the method of scenic 
railways), he must not be taken to deny that the efficiency of 
engines is very limited ; that they make a noise and sometimes 
run over people — such points being quite irrelevant to the pro- 
position that you need an engine to pull a train. And I would add, 
that it is impossible to deal rationally with any of the troubles 
caused by engines, until you cease hankering after trains without 

SocialRepercussions. There are millions of things which people 
buy, use up, and that is the end of it. But this is not always so. 
Not for example when they buy education or shrubs for their 
front gardens. People who acquire knowledge or lay out 
attractive gardens do not reduce to the same extent other 
people’s share of such things, for the benefits they acquire are 
transmitted to a certain degree to others around them. Similar 
“diffuse” effects of individual economic acts — most of them 
undesirable — are very common in the sphere of production. 
Smoke, noise, river pollution, soil erosion, depletion of fish and 
game, industrial ill-health, moral frustration of the industrial 
worker and many other instances come to the mind. The 
money-making system of economy is based on the assumption 
that such diffuse effects are negligible; that each individual 
step makes a circumscribed and visible contribution (positive 
or negative) to the common welfare and that the score of total 
welfare is arrived at by adding up the scores for each step. In 
other words, money-making organizes those aspects of economic 
life which are atomistic, localizable and additive, and leaves 
uncontrolled its “diffuse” or “social” aspects. 

Wherever these repercussions become prominent, there is a 



case for action by the public authorities, who are ultimately 
responsible for social welfare. The question is: what can they 
do? In the light of our argument which denies the possibility 
of any central direction of economic life, public interventions 
will have to be negative rather than prescriptive. They will 
largely consist in restricting the range of commercial activities 
by outlawing unsocial transactions. Here lies the great field 
of social reform in which the last hundred years have made 
such decisive contributions to civilization. In addition to 
this, in a number of distinctive cases the State will undertake 
important positive actions, making provisions for education, 
health and social amenities, which are insufficiently or un- 
satisfactorily supplied by commercial sources. Yet for all 
this, the major part of production and consumption will remain 
— and must remain — directed in its particulars by a money- 
making system, which ignores the “diffuse” effects of its own 
activities. The government can restrain such a system and 
correct it here and there by special taxes and subsidies, and it 
will supplement it by public services; but there exists no 
organizing principle which will maximize the “diffuse” advan- 
tages at which such measures are aiming, with anything remotely 
approaching the effectiveness with which money-making 
maximizes the total of “localizable” advantages and minimizes 
“localizable” costs. A modern industrial system can therefore be 
rationally conducted only as long as the majority of costs are 
circumscribed, its products suitable for distribution to in- 
dividual consumers and are fully used up by those who 
acquire them . 1 

I shall return to this point once more when referring to 

Prevention of Unemployment . I have described the circulation 
of money. How the managers pay out money to “Producers” 
in exchange for labour and other resources, and how the money 
then comes back to them from the same people, spending it as 
Consumers in exchange for finished goods. (A small branch of 
the circulation being passed through the managers’ pockets to 
pay for their services.) I have said that the managers must 
recover the whole of the money which they put into circulation, 
for the money is supposed to be only on loan with them. I may 
1 See p. 19 1 below. 



mention also that if they fail in this matter, they are compelled 
to close down and sell out. 

Actually, Consumers do not usually spend their whole in- 
come, but prefer to set aside some of it to increase their fund 
of security. Thus managers may fall short of recovering all the 
money they have put into circulation and according to the 
rules of commercial management, this may force a number 
of them out of business. Trade would become depressed and 
there would be unemployment. It is true that the effects of 
private saving may be offset to a greater or lesser extent by 
money laid out by managers (from loans) for the construction 
of new factories. But in prosperous communities at an advanced 
state of industrialization, this will usually not be sufficient fully 
to offset savings and a state of chronic depression will tend to 
prevail. Fortunately these troubles can be remedied by govern- 
mental deficit spending. Far from representing an “incurable 
internal contradiction of Capitalism” (as Socialist literature 
still maintains), chronic unemployment is due to an incidental 
defect of the capitalist system, which could be eliminated merely 
by setting aside certain long exploded prejudices concerning the 
conduct of public finance. 

Nationalization . So far I have said almost nothing about 
ownership. I have mentioned that some of the “Producers” 
are owners of land and other natural resources, and have 
hinted at some source whence managers receive their business 
capital on loan. Since the construction of new factories would 
be paid for from such loans, the ownership of factories may be 
presumed to be held by the lenders, who would be investing 
their money in return for a share in profits. But this still leaves 
it open whether ownership in any of the cases mentioned is 
private or public; which seems to indicate that it makes — or 
should make — little difference which it is. 

The essential difference between private enterprise and 
public ownership of industry lies in the way risks are borne in 
the two cases. In the first case, it is left to private individuals to 
subscribe business capital or give loans to managers. They keep 
watch on the investment market and try to shift their capital 
always into the most promising fields. Thus they tend to achieve 
its best utilization. As a reward they earn a share in profits, 
minus, of course, the burden of occasional losses. Moreover, 



they are entitled to interest on loans and to repayment of capital; 
to assure this, they are given the right to foreclose on a de- 
faulting debtor. When the State becomes the sole investor it 
could behave in a way which would result in very nearly the 
same state of affairs. Sums available for investment could be 
handed out to a number of individual agents, who could be 
remunerated from the profits and interests earned by them. 
They would differ from private capitalists only in being pre- 
vented from eating into their capital and not being allowed to 
transmit it to their heirs. But neither of these features would 
noticeably affect the mechanism of the economic system. State 
ownership will, of course, weigh more heavily if the State 
decides — as in Soviet Russia — to act as a holding company for 
all industrial enterprises, providing them centrally with 
capital both on long and short terms, and participating in their 
profits as well as bearing their losses. This eliminates the 
capital market as a means of re-distributing investments and 
replaces its method of “successive approximation” by the 
cruder central decision of a government department. At the 
same time the watch kept on the solvency of enterprise is 
relaxed, as vigilance ceases to be backed by any effective threat 
of foreclosure. 

These economic consequences of state-ownership are not 
unimportant and the pooling of all savings in the hands of the 
State may have also far-reaching political consequences. Yet 
the striking fact to notice is, in view of Socialist expectations of 
“planned production for community consumption”, that 
State-ownership makes in reality so little difference. I expressed 
this a few pages back in rather abstract terms, which will be 
further expanded in the subsequent essay. At this point I only 
want to indicate my final conclusions, without claiming to have 
strictly proven them. 

Let the industrial system of a nation be composed of one 
hundred thousand productive centres, each drawing on the same 
market of industrial resources and supplying with its produce the 
same market of finished (or semi-finished) goods; each centre to 
be directed by a manager, who under private capitalism is 
nominated by the shareholders and under public ownership is 
appointed by the government. Under capitalism the manager is 
responsible to the shareholders for making profit, while the 

* 5 * 


government controls the conditions under which profits are 
made. I suggest that under State-ownership the situation is not 
materially different. The government (like the shareholders) 
must find some administrative means of controlling the 
managers whom it has appointed. Only by applying some 
general rules, can a government exercise control over a large 
number of persons whose task is determined by relations directly 
established between them. It must lay down definite criteria 
of efficiency, which must be binding on itself in the sense that 
any manager who fulfils them could claim to have done his 
duty and to receive recognition for this. The criteria must be 
precise and easily recognizable, for otherwise they would place 
a premium on wangling and tend to penalize the honest scorer. 
The only precise and rational criterion of managerial success that 
can be found is the test of business profits. And once a summary 
test of this kind is imposed and accepted as a measure of his 
efficiency, the manager must be given full discretion as to the 
means of achieving it, within the general rules laid down for his 
operations. The position then coincides with that under private 

It is a mistake which lingers persistently even when this 
situation is accepted, to assume that the government controlling 
the managers appointed by itself, can fashion more detailed 
rules for their control than when dealing with private managers. 
The administrative limitations are the same in both cases. In 
both cases the government can make its preferences felt and 
can modify the profit criterion in their sense. It can grant pre- 
miums and impose fines or special taxes, but in either case these 
measures must be based on the same kind of data: of a kind that 
is swiftly and reliably endorsable by an accountant’s certificate. 
State-ownership of industry can make but little difference to the 
operations of the economic machinery. In its legitimate efforts 
to assure those interests of society which the money-making 
machinery leaves out of account (as well as in trying to eliminate 
monopolistic exploitation, etc.), a socialist government will be 
limited to the use of the same, or very similar, instruments of 
administration by which any government to-day can control 
private industry. 

Much of the confusion* and internal tension of Soviet Russia 
is due to the desperate reluctance to admit this. It results in 


X S3 

ever-renewed and often violent attempts to exercise more 
specific control over the machinery of economic life than is 
compatible with the rules of an effectively functioning system of 

To sum up, there exists no fundamental alternative to 
the system of money-making and profit-seeking. Our modern 
high-standard economy was built up on this system and its 
elimination would reduce our economy to the level of subsis- 
tence farming. In practice, this would mean the extinction of all 
the highly industrialized nations of the West. Instead of hanker- 
ing after the myth of “planned production for community 
consumption”, we must proceed further with the reform of our 
commercial system. The last century of reform has already 
humanized capitalist society far beyond earlier hopes. We shall 
advance even more rapidly and smoothly in future, if we fully 
recognize at last that we must take our stand on this system 
and improve and develop its possibilities. 


Part I. Mainly Descriptive 

My argument for freedom in science bears a close resem- 
blance to the classical doctrine of economic individualism. The 
scientists of the world are viewed as a team setting out to explore 
the existing openings for discovery and it is claimed that their 
efforts will be efficiently co-ordinated if — and only if — each 
is left to follow his own inclinations . 1 This statement is very 
similar to Adam Smith’s claim with regard to a team of business 
men, drawing on the same market of productive resources for 
the purpose of satisfying different parts of the same system of 
demand. Their efforts — he said — would be co-ordinated, as by 
an invisible hand, to the most economical utilization of the 
available resources. 

These two systems of maximized utility are indeed based 
on similar principles; and more than that: they are only two 
examples of a whole set of parallel cases. There is a wide range 
of such systems in nature exhibiting similar types of order. 
They have been called systems of “dynamic order” by Kohler, 
whose designation I followed in an earlier writing 2 ; but I think 
it will be simpler to refer to them as systems of spontaneous 
order . 

Two Kinds of Order 3 

Wherever we see a well-ordered arrangement of things or 
men, we instinctively assume that someone has intentionally 
placed them in that way. A well-kept garden must have been 
laid out; a machine working properly must have been con- 
structed and a company on parade must have been drilled and 

1 See above p. 34 and further throughout Part I. 

2 “The Growth of Thought in Society” ( Economica , 1941, p. 428). 

8 The contents of this section are taken from my article in Economica 
loc. cit. 




placed under command: that is the obvious way for order to 
emerge. Such a method of establishing order consists in limiting 
the freedom of things and men to stay or move about at their 
pleasure, by assigning to each a specific position in a pre- 
arranged plan. 

But there exists another, less obviously determined type 
of order which is based on the opposite principle. The water in 
a jug settles down, filling the hollow of the vessel perfectly and 
in even density, up to the level of a horizontal plane which 
forms its free surface : a perfect arrangement such as no human 
artifice could reproduce, should the process of gravitation and 
cohesion, to which it is due, refuse to function for a moment. 
Yet any number of such containers of varied and complex 
shapes, joined to a system of communicating vessels, could be 
filled in the same perfect and uniform way up to a common 
horizontal plane — merely by letting a liquid come to rest in 

In this second type of order no constraint is applied specifi- 
cally to the individual particles; the forces from outside, like 
the resistance of the vessels and the forces of gravitation, take 
effect in an entirely indiscriminate fashion. The particles are 
thus free to obey the internal forces acting between them, and 
the resultant order represents the equilibrium between all the 
internal and external forces. 

If outside forces are absent or negligible and the internal 
forces operate alone, the resulting equilibria present even more 
striking regularities. Fluids, gases and liquids take on spherical 
shapes and at lower temperatures substances solidify into 
crystals, in which the atoms are arrayed at faultlessly even 
intervals in the three dimensions of space. 

The molecules of half a dozen different substances, dis- 
solved together in a glass of hot water, will deposit on cooling 
within a few minutes, each substance building up separate 
crystals of its own. Many millions of molecules of each will be 
sorted out from the others and neatly stacked up in their separate, 
regularly spaced piles. The achievement may be assessed in its 
magnitude by imagining the sorting out, and careful arrange- 
ment into separate regular stacks of the differently coloured 
marbles of a layer covering the whole planet. Such a task would 
keep the whole of humanity busy for years; yet a similar result 


is accomplished spontaneously in a few seconds, by the internal 
forces acting between the molecules. 

It is clear that the intervention of any human agency which 
attempted to take over the task of such internal forces would be 
entirely inadequate. If the particles had to wait to be picked 
out and placed into position individually, the authorities 
assuming responsibility for ordering them would, in fact, 
merely compel them to remain in disorder indefinitely. This 
seems to suggest that when very large numbers are to be arranged 
carefully, it can be achieved only by the spontaneous mutual 
adjustment of the units, not by assignment of the several units 
to specifically prescribed positions. 

A spontaneously attained order can be most delicate and 
complex. The growth and form of plants and animals are 
instances of such order. The evolution of a polycellular organism 
from the fertilized cell may be regarded as arising from the 
continuous tendency of its particles, interacting with the 
nutrient medium, to come to an internal equilibrium. The 
cells within the field of one embryonic “organizer” have in 
fact the capacity — proved by mutilating or transplanting ex- 
periments — to play any part that may fall to them through the 
interplay of the internal forces within the area. The entire 
evolution of species is commonly thought to have resulted from 
a continued process of internal equilibration in living matter, 
under varying outside circumstances. 

But this should not prejudice us in favour of order by mutual 
adjustment, and against specifically planned order. Where 
smaller numbers are concerned, the latter is likely to show a 
greatly superior performance: all machinery and mechanical 
technique of man demonstrates this superiority when the 
numbers are small enough. The two alternative and opposite 
methods of achieving order — by limiting the freedom of the 
particles, or by giving full scope to their interactions — have 
their respective proper occasions. Unless one of these methods 
is preferred for its own sake (for instance “planners” insisting 
on deliberate direction, or adherents of laissez faire on the use 
of automatism) it should in general be easy to decide which task 
can be accomplished by one and which by the other. They will 
combine in the way mutually exclusive functions combine, 
namely each fitting into a gap left open by the other. 



We must keep in mind also that, as a rule, there will be 
no such mutual interaction between units of an aggregate which 
would arrange them in a desired orderly fashion. Mutual forces, 
like those operating between molecules or the cells of an 
organism, might be absent altogether, as in the case of the 
differently coloured marbles which have no tendency to 
segregate spontaneously. Or again, the spontaneously estab- 
lished order may be undesirable, for example when a 
chemical reaction, performed in an unfavourable medium, 
yields unwanted products; or when a morbid growth kills an 

This suggests that, while it may be possible to achieve 
certain socially desirable forms of co-ordination in society by 
allowing each individual to adjust his action to that of all the 
others (or to some state of affairs resulting from the action of 
all the others) there is no warrant to assume either (1) that any 
particular conceivable task of co-ordination can be attained by 
such a technique or (2) that any particular instance of free 
mutual adjustment between individuals will produce a desirable 
result. It warns us that even the most wonderful successes 
achieved by such adjustment will not be free of manifest short- 
comings nor represent more than a relative optimum. But it 
suggests, nevertheless, that such tasks as a system of free adjust- 
ment may achieve, cannot be effectively performed by any other 
technique of co-ordination. 

Private Freedom 

An earlier essay in this series, The Span of Central Direc- 
tion , dealt in some detail with the methods of establishing 
deliberate order in society and attempted to prove their complete 
inadequacy in coping with tasks achieved by spontaneous order. 
My main subject here is to survey and roughly to analyse the 
principal systems of spontaneous order in society. But before 
turning to this, I must mention a class of individualistic 
manifestations which do not contribute to any system of 
spontaneous order in society. There are many things an in- 
dividual can do which have negligible social effects; or — to be 
precise — the social effects of which are considered negligible 
by the authorities as well as by the consensus of opinion 


throughout society. The range of the things he can thus 
do of his own free will and without danger of incurring 
punishment or censure is important and it is also true that the 
range of such private individualism is not unrelated to the 
scope of public liberties. In a condition of serfdom or villeinage, 
private freedom and public liberty are jointly reduced to zero. 
And liberation from such unfreedom is gained by the establish- 
ment of public liberties, both legal and commercial. To quote 
Bracton: “For that is an absolute villeinage from which an 
uncertain and indeterminate service is rendered, where it 
cannot be known in the evening what service is to be rendered 
in the morning, that is where a person is bound to whatever is 
enjoined to him.” The first step towards liberation is the fixing 
of feudal dues by custom, law or written copy. And finally, by 
commutation of these dues in terms of money, the copyholder 
becomes a tenant, entitled to dispose freely of his own time and 
person, and to select according to his own judgment what is 
most congenial and profitable for him to do. 

But the scope of public liberties is not generally proportional 
to that of private freedom. The two may even be inversely 
related. Private nihilism prepares the mind for submission to 
public despotism; and a despotic regime may continue to 
tolerate unrestrained forms of private life, which another 
society living under public freedom would have stamped out 
by social ostracism. Under Stalin the scope of private freedom 
remains much wider than it was in Victorian Britain, while 
that of public liberties is incomparably less. 

A free society is characterized by the range of public 
liberties through which individualism performs a social 
function, and not by the scope of socially ineffective personal 
liberties. Conversely, totalitarianism is not intent on destroying 
private freedom, but denies all justification to public liberties. 
In the totalitarian conception, independent personal actions can 
never perform a social function, but can only satisfy a private 
desire; while all public responsibility falls to the state. The 
liberal conception of society which attributes a decisive part 
to the operation of individual freedom in the public life of 
nations, must recognize that this entails a distinction between 
two aspects of freedom: public and private. Both deserve 
protection; but it is damaging to the first that it should be 



demanded and its justification sought — as often happens— on 
the grounds of the second. 

Systems of Spontaneous Order in Society 

When order is achieved among human beings by allowing 
them to interact with each other on their own initiative — subject 
only to laws which uniformly apply to all of them — we have a 
system of spontaneous order in society. We may then say that 
the efforts of these individuals are co-ordinated by exercising 
their individual initiative and that this self-co-ordination justi- 
fies their liberty on public grounds. 

The actions of such individuals are said to be free, for they 
are not determined by any specific command, whether of a 
superior or of a public authority ; the compulsion to which they 
are subject is impersonal and general. There are dozens of 
aspects in which these individuals are not free. They are under 
compulsion to earn their living, they may be exploited by their 
employers, bullied by their families, deluded by their own 
vanity, and must all die ; it is not claimed that they are free in 
any other sense than such as is expressly stated. How far such 
liberty is of intrinsic value and deserves protection, even apart 
from its social usefulness, is a question which I leave open at this 
stage and shall try to clarify later. 

An aggregate of individual initiatives can lead to the 
establishment of spontaneous order only if each takes into 
account in its action what the others have done in the same 
context before. Where large numbers are involved, such mutual 
adjustment must be indirect; each individual adjusts himself 
to a state of affairs resulting from the foregoing actions of the 
rest. This requires that information about the state of affairs 
in question should be available to each member of the aggregate ; 
as in the case of such communal states of affairs as the condition 
of various markets, the current achievements of scientific 
progress, or the position of the law up to date. We may add 
that for “individuals” we may read “corporations acting as 



Marketing Systems 

The most massive example of spontaneous order in society 
— the prototype of order established by an “invisible hand” — 
is that of economic life based on an aggregate of competing 
individuals. I want to sketch out here its main features only so 
far as this is required for comparing this particular spontaneous 
system with others of a different character. 

We shall take separately the system of producers and the 
system of consumers. To simplify matters we shall regard for 
the start all “producers” as plant managers, hiring or buying 
resources for the production of goods and services for sale to 
consumers. The persons from whom they hire or buy these 
resources (labour, land, capital) will be brought in later. 

Producers are constantly on the look-out for an opening to 
utilize at a greater profit the resources which they control and 
to gain control over more resources, hitherto managed by other 
producers, by finding more profitable applications for them. 
Accordingly, each new decision of a producer will involve 
changes of his demands on the market of resources. Such 
demands are made publicly in terms of money which is used in 
common by everybody. Each new decision of a producer 
modifies therefore the prices on which the further decisions 
of all other producers will depend. Such are the mutual adjust- 
ments between the decisions of individual producers. 

Each adjustment will tend to lessen the amount of resources 
required for producing a given satisfaction offered to consumers. 
Jointly they will tend to reduce total production costs to a 
minimum. The result is a state of order, for it forms an aggre- 
gate possessing an advantage by virtue of a particular collocation 
of varied and numerous elements. It is a spontaneously 
established order, for it originates in the independent actions 
of individuals, guided by a common situation previously 
created by the similarly guided independent actions of other 
individuals of the same group. It is a case of spontaneous order 
in society. 

Before passing on to the consumers, let me make good some 
serious over-simplifications of this sketch. The managers (M) 
are of course bargaining for the resources of production with 
those who can dispose of them. We may take it that (in the 



absence of slavery) each worker (W) is entitled to dispose of his 
own labour. There will, moreover, be some persons whom we 
will call “landowners” (L) entitled to dispose commercially 
of land for use as factory sites, agriculture and other productive 
purposes and finally some investors (I) who will dispose of 
capital. The managers’ dealings with the persons called W, L 
and I, will be carried out in separate markets, each of which 
is a system of spontaneous order, spontaneously adjusted to the 
other two. 

Finally, on the other side (as it were) of the managers there 
are the consumers (C) so that the total picture in its simplest 
form is as follows — with double-arrows indicating market 

We now direct our attention to the system of adjustments 
prevailing between the managers (M) and the consumers (C). 
Consumers also set up a system of spontaneous order. The 
consecutive purchases of buyers, each of which is adjusted to 
the market conditions created by previous purchases, tends to 
produce a condition in which consumers are receiving — subject 
to the prevailing distribution of income — the maximum satis- 
faction of their preferences from the available goods and 
services. This system is supplemented by another system 
operating between the managers who compete for the demand 
of consumers. 

The systems of spontaneous order (to the left of M) 
assuring production at a minimum cost, are linked to the 
systems of spontaneous order (to the right of M), assuring 
maximum satisfaction, by the fact that the consumers are the 
same people as the W, L, I and M. C represents the population 
as consumers, W, L, I and M the same population as producers. 
This situation has been referred to before (p. 146). 



Systems of Intellectual Order 

Of the systems of spontaneous order which form part of 
the intellectual life of society I shall take first the example of 
Law, and in particular Common Law. 

Consider a judge sitting in court and deciding a difficult 
case. While pondering his decision, he refers consciously to 
dozens of precedents and unconsciously to many more. Before 
him numberless other judges have sat and decided according to 
statute, precedent, equity and convenience, as he himself will 
have to decide now; his mind, while he analyses the various 
aspects of the case, is in constant contact with theirs. And beyond 
the purely legal references, he senses the entire contemporary 
trend of opinions, the social medium as a whole. Not until he 
has established all these bearings of his case and responded to 
them in the light of his own professional conscience, will his 
decision acquire force of conviction and will he be ready to 
declare it. 

The moment this point is reached and the judgment 
announced, the tide starts running backwards. The addition 
made to the Law by the decision just taken may be massive or 
slight; in either case it represents an interpretation of the 
hitherto existing Law, reinforcing or modifying its system in 
some respect. It makes it appear henceforth in a somewhat 
new light. Public opinion too has received a new response 
and a new stimulus. Every new decision in court gives 
guidance to all future judges for their decisions of cases yet 
unthought of. 

The operation of Common Law thus constitutes a sequence 
of adjustments between succeeding judges, guided by a parallel 
interaction between the judges and the general public. The 
result is the ordered growth of the Common Law, steadily re- 
applying and re-interpreting the same fundamental rules and 
expanding them thus to a system of increasing scope and con- 
sistency. Such coherence and fitness as this system possesses at 
any time is the direct embodiment of the wisdom with which 
each consecutive judicial decision is adjusted to all those made 
before and to any justified changes in public opinion. 

Accordingly, the operations of a judicial system of case law 
is an instance of spontaneous order in society. But we see that 



it differs profoundly from the systems of production or con- 
sumption by the fact that it achieves more than temporal 
advantages. While an economic system of spontaneous order 
co-ordinates individual actions merely to serve the momentary 
material interest of its participants, an orderly process of judi- 
cature deposits a valid and lasting system of legal thought. 

The next example of spontaneous order brings us back to 
the opening theme of this book, which is Science. Every scientist 
in search of discovery is faced with the scientific results and 
opinions of all other scientists up to that time, which are 
summed up in textbooks or — for more recent works — in current 
publications and public discussions. In the setting of his pro- 
blem, in the way in which he pursues it and reaches his con- 
clusions, he follows the recognized methods of science with such 
personal variations as he thinks fit to apply. 

The scientist differs from the judge in that he is not given 
a case to decide, but has to select his own problem for investiga- 
tion. Early in life he specializes on certain branches of science 
which seem to fit his inclinations, and then through the years of 
his apprenticeship in research he keeps looking out for some 
problem specially suited to his gifts, by the pursuit of which he 
may hope to achieve important results. Since the credit for a 
new discovery goes to the scientist who first publishes it, each 
will be eager to publish his results as soon as he feels sure of 
them. This induces scientists to inform their colleagues without 
delay of their current progress. On the other hand, sharp sanc- 
tions are in operation against premature publication, and scient- 
ists whose conclusions have proved hasty suffer a serious loss 
in reputation; this guards scientific opinion from being confused 
by a flood of erroneous claims put in circulation by too ambitious 
investigators. Every new claim put forward by a scientist is 
received with a measure of scepticism by the scientific public, 
and the author may find it necessary to defend his claim against 
possible objections. Thus every proposed addition to the body 
of science is subjected to a regular process of scrutiny, the 
arguments on both sides being given public hearing before 
scientific opinion decides to accept or reject the new ideas in 

In the way a scientist, wrestling with a problem, accepts as 
his premise a great mass of previously established knowledge 



and submits to the guidance of scientific standards, while taking 
also into account the whole trend of current scientific opinion, 
he resembles a judge referring to precedent and statute and 
interpreting them in the light of contemporary thought. But in 
the way the scientist selects a new problem to which he might 
apply his gifts to the best advantage, and, when discovery is 
achieved, puts forward his claims as soon as he is certain of 
their validity, pressing for their acceptance by the scientific 
public — the scientist acts more like a business man, who first 
searches for a new profitable application of the resources at his 
disposal and then hastens to advertise and commend his pro- 
ducts to the consumers before anyone can forestall him. 

The first method of adjustment is common to judges and 
scientists and is a process of consultation . The consistent growth 
of law and science derives from the consultative acts by which 
the dynamic systems of law and science are maintained. 
Turning on the other hand to business men, we find few con- 
sultative contacts between them. Though commercial ideas also 
keep growing continuously, their cultivation is not the main 
function of a commercial system. Mutual adjustment between 
business men is primarily guided by a striving for individual 
advantage, and we have seen that the same applies in a modified 
form to some important aspects of scientific work. In both 
these cases we have a competitive adjustment which, wherever 
it operates, tends to maximize total production and minimize 
cost. While “consultation” assures the systematic growth of 
science, the competitive forces at work in scientific life tend to 
bring about the most economic use both of the intellectual 
power and the material resources applied to the pursuit of 

But something is yet missing in this analysis. The public 
discussion by which scientific claims are sifted before they can 
be accepted as established by science, is a process of mutual 
adjustment which is neither consultative nor competitive. This 
type of adjustment is exemplified by two opposing counsel try- 
ing to win over the jury to their own side. When such a dis- 
cussion goes on in wider circles, each participant adjusts his 
arguments to what has been said before and thus all divergent 
and mutually exclusive aspects of a case are in turn revealed, 
the public being eventually persuaded to accept one (or some) 



and to reject the others. The persons participating in the 
controversy by which this result is achieved, may be said to 
co-operate in a system of spontaneous order. This type of co- 
ordination resembles a competitive order in view of the part 
played in it by the struggle of different individuals trying to 
achieve mutually exclusive advantages. But in a controversy 
that is both sincere and fair, the participants will primarily aim 
at presenting the truth, relying on it to prevail over error. 
Therefore, I suggest that co-ordination involved in a sincere 
and fair controversy should be classed separately as a system 
of spontaneous order based on persuasion . The mutual co- 
ordination of scientific activities is thus seen to include modes 
of interaction of all three kinds : consultation in the first place, 
competition as second in importance, and persuasion as third. 

Law and science are only two among the many intellectual 
fields in society. Though no other activities of the mind form 
such precise systems as those of legal and scientific thought, 
they all prosper similarly by the mutually adjusted efforts of 
individual contributors. Thus language and writing are de- 
veloped by individuals communicating through them with each 
other. Literature and the various arts, pictorial as well as 
musical; the crafts, including medicine, agriculture, manu- 
facture and the various technical services; the whole body of 
religious, social and political thought — all these, and many 
other branches of human culture, are fostered by methods of 
spontaneous order similar to those described for* science and 
law. Each of these fields represents a common heritage acces- 
sible to all, to which creative individuals in each successive 
generation respond in the form of proposed innovations, which, 
if accepted, are assimilated to the common heritage and passed 
on for the guidance of generations yet to come. 

Acquisitiveness versus Professionalism 

Ever since its gradual rise in the Middle Ages, modern capital- 
ism has been under fire of criticism, first by the Churches and 
then by the Socialist movement, for making profit-seeking the 
means for earning a living. R. H. Tawney who in his Religion 
and the Rise of Capitalism recorded the earlier stages of this 
criticism, contributed as a Socialist to its present phase in his 


1 66 

book The Acquisitive Society. He expresses here the desire, 
which has always played some part in Socialist aspirations, 
that industrial life should be guided by professional standards, 
in place of the pursuit of personal gain. 1 

I have analysed, side by side, economic and intellectual 
systems of spontaneous order and have shown that the indi- 
vidual actions by which the former operate are purely competi- 
tive, while those of the second are in the first place consultative, 
i.e. adjusted with reference to an established professional 
opinion. It is easy to see now why this must be so. 

An intellectual system of spontaneous order can arise only 
within an existing system of thought. Such a system, trans- 
mitted by tradition, may absorb new entrants and guide their 
contributions in accordance with the traditional standards in- 
herent in it. Systems of this kind may be in danger of exhaustion ; 
they may be undermined by the growth of an internal contradic- 
tion or disrupted by dissension over some new issue. But so 
long as such a system lives and is believed true, its cultivation 
is recognized as a purpose in itself and its standards are accepted 
in their own right as guides to the cultivators’ actions. Such a 
system of thought can in fact exist only when embodied in 
a social structure which is dedicated to the task of embody- 
ing it. 

Economic activities cannot be guided by professional stan- 
dards because there exists no system of thought from which 
such standards could be derived in respect to this field. It is 
foolish to look for standards of propriety which would rationally 
determine the distribution of such an immense variety of goods 
— millions of lines of merchandise — as a modern industrial 
system is expected to produce. The success of industrial produc- 
tion, undertaken to satisfy individual consumers’ wants, must 
ultimately be tested by the consumers’ satisfaction. And the 
only rational test of this, at least in the vast majority of cases, is 
the consumers’ willingness to buy the product in a competitive 
market at a price which yields a profit to the makers. Producers 

1 “The difference [writes Tawney] between industry as it exists to-day 
and a profession is then simple and unmistakable. . . . The essence of the one 
is that its only criterion is the financial return that it offers to its shareholders. 
The essence of the other is that, though men enter it for the sake of a liveli- 
hood, the measure of their success is the service which they perform not 
the gains which they amass.” The Acquisitive Society , p. 108. 


therefore must seek to make a profit by selling their products 
and this profit must be their guide. 

The reverse holds again for activities dedicated to the cultiva- 
tion of a system of thought. For firstly, it is impossible to parcel 
up and hand out to individual consumers the results of such 
labours, which in fact cannot be consumed at all. The satisfaction 
which they give is of an inherently communal nature, as that 
given by beautiful public buildings or victories in war. And 
secondly, even if the results could somehow be individually 
consumed, the individual members of the public would not be 
competent to judge them, but would have to take their lead 
from the guardians of the professional standards who act as the 
public’s agents in supervising the various fields of mental 
cultivation and supplying an authoritative assessment of their 

Financing of Intellectual Activities 

If intellectual products cannot in general be valued by what 
they fetch on the market, some other method must be applied 
for providing their makers with appropriate rewards and, where 
necessary, with laboratories and other resources of intellectual 
production. I have dealt with such questions before, in discus- 
sing the governmental financing of universities and have 
recommended there that in all particulars the public authorities 
should follow the guidance of professional opinion. It may be 
added here that the total sum of money allocated for cultural 
purposes will have to be assessed by the public authorities in 
relation to alternative modes of spending these sums, either by 
the individual citizens for their personal satisfaction, or by the 
public authorities for other collective purposes. Such decisions 
require of public opinion that it develop a sense of fitness, 
which can equally recognize extravagant spending and crying 
deficiencies in the cultural budget, and keep a rational middle 
course which will avoid both. This is the type of judgment on 
which the size and pattern of public or semi-public cultural 
expenditure is based. In earlier days it decreed the allocation 
of great wealth for the construction of cathedrals, parish 
churches, and monasteries, the bare maintenance of which has 
become precarious to-day, though they could rely for support 
on a much larger and richer population. Instead secular schools 

1 68 


and universities are rapidly expanded to-day, particular munifi- 
cence being lavished on the construction of laboratories. The 
totals — and ultimately of course also the various items — of these 
endowments are arrived at in each case by an assessment of 
marginal social returns, balanced against alternative marginal 
benefits, both social and individual. 

Let us recall also an important intellectual activity, the 
fruits of which cannot be altogether assessed by professional 
opinion, but must primarily be valued by what they can fetch 
in the market. Inventions and other advances in technical know- 
ledge resemble advances in pure science in that they benefit 
society best when enjoyed freely by all, but they differ from 
pure science in that they can be justified only by the test of 
profitability. It is interesting how difficult it is to devise institu- 
tions which will provide a commercial test for the profitability 
of inventions and yet leave the knowledge which they convey 
freely available to all. 1 Suppose that those who supply resources 
for the development of inventions wanted to collect their 
invested capital and any expected profits from the sale of the 
products made by the inventions. They would find this impos- 
sible, so long as the invention developed by them would become 
without delay available to everybody. For their competitors, 
getting the inventions free of charge, could — and probably 
would — undersell them, by the very amount required for re- 
covering the cost of development. Hence the financing of inven- 
tions (it would seem) can be rationally conducted only if a legal 
title to the exclusive exploitation of inventions is granted to 
those who financed them ; but such a restriction is inappropriate 
to inventions as a form of knowledge and will greatly reduce 
their usefulness to society. Moreover, since it is impossible to 
define rationally the legal titles in question, the procedure for 
establishing the inventor’s monopoly, which is that of the 
patent law, involves all the notorious injustices which abound 
in the operations of that law. There can hardly exist another 
institution which is so generally condemned as unsatisfactory 
among experts, while they seem to offer no hope whatever of 
an effective remedy for its shortcomings. 

1 A detailed analysis of this subject is given in my paper “Patent Reform’*, 
Review of Economic Studies , 1944. 



Part II. Formal Analysis 

The impasse in which we find ourselves to-day in respect 
to the rational financing of inventions, offers a vivid example of 
a whole range of more momentous embarrassments. We see here 
an objective which we feel that society should be able to achieve 
and for the attainment of which no institution can be devised. 
It is an instance of a social task that for the time being we must 
consider as unmanageable. 

The existence of social tasks which appear both desirable 
and feasible and yet are in fact impracticable has set the stage 
throughout history for a wide range of human conflicts. All 
the battles of social reform were fought on these grounds, with 
conservatives often harshly overstating and progressives reck- 
lessly underestimating the limits of manageability. There is 
hardly a social evil which was not authoritatively defended at 
some time or other as part of the natural order of things. Since 
the beginning of the last century social reform had regularly to 
face opponents who criticized its projects as contrary to the laws 
of political economy. Dickens wrote in Hard Times a revealing 
satire on the economic theories current among the manufacturers 
of Coketown: 

‘‘They were ruined when they were required to send children 
to school; they were ruined when inspectors were appointed to 
look into their works; they were ruined when such inspectors 
considered it doubtful whether they were quite justified in chop- 
ping up people with their machinery; they were utterly undone 
when it was hinted that perhaps they need not always make so 
much smoke.’ * 

Indeed, not more than fifteen years have passed since economic 
theory gave general support to the doctrine that periodic mass 
unemployment was ineradicable; a disastrous view which to-day 
few would accept. Yet the danger of disregarding the limits 
of social feasibility are no less terrible. Lenin’s attempt to 
replace the functions of the market by a centrally directed 
economic system caused far greater devastation than the worst 
forms of laissez faire ever did. There is no general method by 
which the two fateful opposite errors can be avoided. When 
history has been reviewed, we are still left with the responsi- 
bility for making up our minds on every new occasion as to 




what social objectives we should consider as attainable, and 
which as impossible. This is the problem of social manageability. 


In the present essay I have hitherto been concerned with ex- 
tending the concept of self-co-ordination — known since Adam 
Smith to operate within a market — to various other activities in 
the intellectual field and with clarifying the relationship between 
the economic and intellectual systems thus brought into analogy 
to each other. I have shown before 1 that a task which is 
achieved spontaneously by mutual adjustment cannot be per- 
formed deliberately through a corporate body. Now I want to 
define certain social tasks which may or may not be manageable ; 
but which, if manageable, can only be performed by spontaneous 
mutual adjustment. I shall pursue this aim by enlarging upon the 
concept of polycentricity. This concept can be defined by the 
use of the following models: 

Fig. 1. 

1 See pp. 1 14 to 12a. 



A framework built of rods is shown in Figure 1. We see 
six pin-points at the edge, each of which is connected with 
every other by a rod or a tie or strut. Now suppose we hang this 
framework up by one pin-point to a nail and attach a heavy 
weight to the pin-point just opposite, as shown in Figure 2. 
The whole structure will be distorted in a definite manner, 
each pin-point being displaced in respect to every other. To 
calculate the ensuing lengthenings and shortenings of the rods 
we have to know their elastic properties, i.e. the lengthening or 
shortening that each would undergo under a given pull or push 
acting along its axis. Armed with such knowledge we could set 
up a number of simultaneous equations, which would state 
that the strains imposed on the rods connecting one pin-point 
with the rest are such as to produce a resultant force equal to 
zero at every pin-point, excepting the two at which the frame- 
work is loaded and at which it is attached to the nail, where the 
resultant should be equal and opposite to the loads acting on 
the pin-points . 1 

The mutual displacement of the pin-points in the loaded 
framework possesses “poiycentricity”, i.e. the pin-points are so 
displaced that the displacement of each in respect to every other 
is related in a prescribed manner to the displacement of every 
one of these to each of the others — and so on indefinitely. I 
shall say that the totality of these displacements represents a 
case of polycentric order . The task of ordering a number of 
elements polycentrically will be called a polycentric task . 

The loaded framework illustrates a polycentric task of a 
particular kind, namely one that can be mathematically 
formalized . Its performance can be given the form of solving 
a set of simultaneous equations. This is due to the fact that the 
relations (i.e. displacements) requiring adjustment between the 
individual centres can be specified in the form of numerically 
measured quantities, fulfilling specifiable equations. Poly- 
centric tasks which can be mathematically formalized fall into 
three groups. Some can be computed exactly , others only by a 
sequence of successive approximations , and others again are al- 
together incomputable. 

1 The unloaded framework is assumed to be free of internal strain, and 
the weight of the rods is assumed to be negligible ; their connection at the 
comers leaves them to swing around freely in the plane of the figure. 



By an exact computation I mean one which simultaneously 
takes into account all the conditions of the task and operates 
methodically on the symbols representing them, until the un- 
known arrangement determined by the known conditions of 
the problem is brought out as an explicit function of these 
conditions. Exact computations can only be carried out for 
polycentric tasks involving a comparatively small number of 
centres. The number is subject to two kinds of limitations. One 
limitation arises from the limited accuracy of the experimental 
data that enter into the calculation. The “elastic properties” 
of rods are always known only to a limited degree of accuracy 
(at the best to about i per cent.) and when these magnitudes are 
introduced into the formulae for the unknown displacements, 
their inaccuracies usually have a cumulative effect on the result 
which rapidly mounts up with the number of centres involved. 
It is on this account — it would seem — that R. V. Southwell 
expresses this fact when stating in his Theory of Elasticity { 1935, 
p. ill), that the greatest number of simultaneous linear equa- 
tions representing a loaded framework, which could be treated 
with any confidence in the accuracy of the final result, was ten 
or twelve. 1 There exists, however, another limitation which 
arises even if the “given data” entering into the set of simul- 
taneous equations are supposed to be known with absolute 
accuracy. This is due, as j. v. Neumann and H. H. Goldstine 
have shown 2 to the fact that you have to “round off” the num- 
bers obtained in the course of calculating the unknowns in an 
extensive set of linear equations. Calculations of this kind are 
impracticable unless carried out with the help of computing 
machines, and these can handle only a limited number of digits, 
v. Neumann and Goldstine have estimated that the number ( k ) 
of simultaneous linear equations that can be evaluated by any 
modern computing machine would be limited to 150. This 
restriction ( k < 150) is derived for a machine handling twelve 
decimal or forty binary digits. The former, it so happens, is 
the digital range of ordinary desk calculating machines, the 
latter that of the modern electronic computer. The limitations 
imposed on k on account of the “rounding off” error are 

1 This point was confirmed by correspondence with Sir Richard 

2 Bull Amer. Math. Soc S3 (i947)> 1021 . 



therefore the same in both cases. But the desk machine 
reaches its effective limit at a much lower k , on account of its 
low speed. For the evaluation of k equations requires about 
k z multiplications, which with k= 150 is about 3,500,000; 
and even for the electronic computer, this would require in 
practice (according to an estimate for which I am indebted to 
Professor M. H. A. Newman) a time of about ten hours. 
While the “rounding off” error could be reduced in electronic 
computers without excessive difficulty by increasing the 
number of digits handled, its speed limit makes an extension 
of its range beyond k = 150 appear impracticable. It may be 
mentioned that we assumed here throughout that we are 
concerned with systems of equations in which practically all 
the co-efficients of the unknown quantities have significant 
values. A framework of the kind shown in Figure 1 with suit- 
able loads attached to it, should represent a problem possessing 
this quality. 

The upshot of this discussion is to set a limit on the number 
of corners n which our polygonal framework can have if its 
distortion under load is to be numerically computable. There 
is a formula for k , (the order of redundancy), according to 
which k — r — 2/ + 3, with r — number of rods and j — number of 

joints. In our case j = n and r ■ 

:, and hence k = 150 is 

first reached for about n ** 20. We conclude that the polycentric 
task represented by the distortion under load of an w-cornered 
polygon of the type shown in Figure 1 can be computed by exact 
methods (in the sense defined above) only up to the limit of 

n — 20. 

A wide range of formalized polycentric problems of which 
the solutions lie beyond the power of exact calculation can be 
solved by a suitable method of approximation, which is of great 
interest to us as it represents a perfect paradigm of a co- 
ordination by independent mutual adjustments. The method 
consists in dealing With one centre at a time while supposing the 
others to he fixed in relation to the rest , for that time A This 
procedure, called the “relaxation method”, which R. V. South- 
well developed systematically and brought to prominence in the 

1 A passing reference has already been made to this on p. 141 above. 



science of engineering in 1935. 1 You deal with each centre by 
calculating its displacement in respect to the others which are 
assumed to remain fixed. By performing this “adjustment” for 
each centre in turn, you obtain a first — perhaps rather crude — 
approximation to the required polycentric order. By repeating 
the “adjustment” of each centre, the correct shape of the loaded 
framework can be approximated to any desired extent. It will 
usually suffice to go over all centres two or three times. 

The Relaxation Method presupposes that the problem of 
every single centre can be computed by exact methods. This 
permits the indefinite extension of a polycentric task, so long 
as the extension involves no increase in the difficulty of the 
computation to be made at each centre. This is usually true; 
it holds for example for large frameworks used in railway bridges 
or aeroplanes, where the number of braces pinned together at 
each joint does not increase with the size of the framework. 
But if in a fully braced polygon (i.e. one in which each corner 
is connected with every other corner) the number of centres is 
increased, the problem at each centre becomes increasingly 
more difficult and at some stage the problem becomes altogether 
incomputable. For the problem of “adjusting” one corner of a 
fully braced polygon (in which casej = 1) we find that the limit 
k = 150 will be reached when n = 153. Between n — 20 and 
n — 153 we can therefore evaluate the problems of fully braced 
loaded polygons by the aid of successive approximations from 
corner to corner; while beyond that (i.e. for n > 153) lies a 
region in which computation is no longer possible at all. 

The analogy between the operation of the Relaxation 
Method and a series of mutual adjustments leading to a system 
of spontaneous order, can be made even more striking by the 
following imaginary procedure. For the numerical evaluation 
of a very urgent polycentric problem, we could employ 
a team of mathematicians of whom each would be put in 
charge of one centre. He would be instructed to carry out the 
adjustment of his centre and to announce the result to all the 
other calculators. Once each had noted the result of all the 
others he would make a second adjustment of his own centre, 

1 See R. V. Southwell, Theory of Elasticity (1935), an d in more detail in 
Relaxation Methods in Engineering Science (1940), and Relaxation Methods 
in Theoretical Physics (1946). 



which would take into account the adjustments previously made 
by all the others at theirs. Thus in a few consecutive steps a 
polycentric task of any size could be carried out at the same 
hig h speed, provided only that the problems arising at the 
individual centres remained of the same degree of difficulty. 

We have here a replica of the team of jig-saw puzzle solvers 
described earlier on to illustrate the logic of self-co-ordination 
among scientists . 1 Our new paradigm, however, is in various 
ways an advance on the earlier version. The team of calculators 
who most effectively combine to achieve their polycentric task 
by operating independently at each centre, is not a fiction but 
represents the actual process by which engineering science 
masters its polycentric problems. The superiority of the Re- 
laxation Method, on which our model of spontaneous order is 
based, is notorious ; its practical value in solving otherwise in- 
soluble problems is well established. Moreover, the exact 
method of computing polycentric problems, the range of which 
appears so limited by comparison, supplies us — as a counter- 
part to self-co-ordination — with a model of co-ordination by 
one central authority. The exact method of computing a set of 
simultaneous equations takes note simultaneously of all the 
conditions to which the several centres of the problem are sub- 
ject and finally produces an adjustment of each in which all 
these conditions (expressed by the whole array of co-efficients) 
simultaneously enter. This is precisely what a central co- 
ordinating authority would have to do, and the comparative 
impotence of this procedure is a true illustration of the im- 
potence of central direction as compared with a process of 
mutual self-adjustment. 

The team of polycentric calculators has a further advantage 
in illustrating spontaneous co-ordination in society. It estab- 
lishes the kind of order which individuals operating in the same 
market establish between themselves. The polycentric task 
achieved by the calculators is a minimum problem, and the 
task aimed at by the market can be described in similar terms: 
market operations tend towards a minimum of costs and a 
maximum of satisfaction, which has been jointly described as a 
maximum of economic utility. 

But before evaluating this parallel we must extend our 
1 p. 35 above. 



conception of polycentric tasks. Hitherto I have talked only of 
polycentric problems that can be mathematically formulated, 
such as are commonly presented to the engineer and also occur 
all over the field of science, for example as the many-body 
problems of astronomy and atomic physics. In a wider sense, 
however, we may consider every problem of balancing a large 
number of elements as a polycentric task. The system of postural 
reflexes which keep us in equilibrium while sitting, standing or 
walking, performs a very complex polycentric task. And from 
this purely animal level we may ascend continuously to the 
highest intellectual, moral and artistic achievements. Wisdom 
is defined by Kant as a man’s capacity to harmonize all his 
purposes in life; thus wisdom aims at a polycentric task. In a 
painting each patch of colour should bear a significant relation 
to every other patch. Mozart is quoted as saying that he could 
simultaneously hear all the notes of an opera which he had just 
finished composing. All art aims at polycentric harmonies. 
Between the reflex reactions and the supremely creative levels 
there are many intermediate levels of practical intelligence, 
which raise similar many-sided problems. A well-assorted menu 
will combine dishes and wines harmoniously and a wise gastro- 
nomer will adjust his helpings of each so as to make the most 
of all. A doctor will prescribe a cure for a trouble of the lungs, 
while considering also the heart, the kidneys and the digestion 
as well as the income and the family conditions of the patient. 
All these are polycentric tasks which cannot be mathematically 

The solving of polycentric tasks of this kind is a character- 
istic ability of living beings and of animals in particular. On 
the lowest levels it may be identified with the capacity for 
homoeostasis or purposive action, while its higher forms 
manifest man’s power of intelligent judgment. In either case 
the balance is achieved by an organism reacting to the whole 
range of impulses that reach it from all the “centres” which it 
jointly takes into account. The organism evaluates their joint 
significance, whether reflexly or consciously, and, thus guided, 
produces a solution of the poly centric task, or achieves, at any 
rate, a measure of success in this direction. 

Between such polycentric tasks which are completely un- 
formalized and those of the engineer which are completely 


formalized , there is an intermediate range of tasks which I 
shall describe as “theoretically formalized ” . 

Economic tasks fall into this class. In a wider sense all 
polycentric tasks are economic, for it is of the essence of all 
problems to be set within certain limiting conditions and a 
polycentric task always aims at making the best within these 
limits of a number of elements available for a joint purpose. 
But a problem becomes more narrowly economic if the 
numerous “elements” are different kinds of consumable goods 
or different forms of resources applied to the production of 
these goods, and the limitation consists in the scarcity of these 
resources and of the goods produced from them. The particular 
kind of wisdom, or prudence, required to deal with such situa- 
tions is called “economy” in the technical sense. 

First among its oft-described exemplars is the prudent house- 
wife, spreading her expenditure over all possible purchases so 
as to maximize their total utility. Each item she spends should 
be balanced against every other item, this in turn being balanced 
against every other, and so on indefinitely. This is the poly- 
centric task of the consumer’s choice. Robinson Crusoe has 
an even more complex polycentric task to solve if he wishes 
to balance every item of the simple needs and pleasures which he 
satisfies, both against each other and against every item of effort 
expended on gaining these satisfactions — while each effort in its 
turn would have to be balanced against every other effort 
and against each form of satisfaction to which it contributes. 
This defines the polycentric task of self-subsistent production. 

The judgment exercised by the shopping housewife or the 
self-subsistent farmer in carrying out their tasks has certain 
features which make it suitable for mathematical formulation, 
which it would be useless to attempt for other fields of prudence 
or to artistic decisions. The goods which are consumed and the 
labour expended can be specified quantitatively, or may at any 
rate be supposed to be so specifiable, without serious distortion 
of the facts. This has stimulated the setting up of mathematical 
equations illustrating the problems facing the housewife and the 
self-subsistent producer. The significance of these equations 
is, however, quite different from that of the mathematically 
expressed problems of engineering or astronomy, which I have 
described as fully formalized. For, firstly — and obviously — 



housewives and farmers know nothing about the equations 
which are supposed to set out their problems, nor would they 
understand them if they knew about them. And secondly, 
these equations cannot be evaluated, for the substitution- 
coefficients which enter into them cannot be measured and the 
symbols referring to these are therefore without numerical 
significance. These equations are valuable in exhibiting certain 
logical features of the problem to which they refer, but cannot 
be used for solving these problems. They offer a mathematical 
model of economic decisions. If the consumer could be repre- 
sented by a robot , 1 the function of the robot could be fully 
specified in mathematical terms and these would satisfy equa- 
tions of the kind by which economic theory describes the 
consumer’s problem. Similarly, a mechanical Robinson Crusoe 
would have to satisfy the mathematical theory of the self- 
subsistent producer. It is in this sense that I said that the 
economic problems to which I have referred are theoretically 
formalizable. Their mathematical formulation is significant only 
in theory, not in practice. 

I should mention here that the economic problem facing 
industrial managers can also be theoretically formalized. It 
consists in the maximization of profits by transforming produc- 
tive resources into articles that can be sold, particularly to 
consumers, both the resources and the products being valued 
at given current prices. The mathematical formulation of 
managerial functions is, once more, merely a mathematical 
model. A modern industrial manager will use more computa- 
tions (directly or indirectly) than Robinson Crusoe, but most 
of the “data” on which he relies can obviously not be given 
numerical values, or brought into mathematically specifiable 
relations to each other. 

The major result of economic theory is to show that an 
aggregate of individuals, solving as Producers and Consumers 
the problems theoretically assigned to them, would achieve 
self-co-ordination as if directed by an “invisible hand”. The 
resulting system of spontaneous order is defined as a minimum 
of production costs, combined with a maximum utility of 
distribution. A long list of qualifications ought to be added to 
this statement to make it quite clear that the minimum of costs 

1 See p. 140 above. 



is a relative minimum , which would vary according to the 
institutional framework, e.g. for every stage of social legislation 
— and that the maximum of utility is a relative maximum 9 
defined with respect to a certain distribution of incomes, a 
certain level of honesty among salesmen and credulity among 
customers, and so on and so forth. While all these qualifications 
must be remembered, they should never be allowed to obscure 
the fact that some relative optimum is achieved according to 
economic theory by independent economic actions of a 
multitude of individuals, acting both as “Producers” and 

The economic optimum achieved by the invisible hand in 
society can now be compared with the minimum problem 
evaluated by our team of calculators, adjusting a polycentric 
framework to a given set of loads. The solution which the 
computers will find is characterized by a minimum value of the 
stress-energy stored in the rods of the framework carrying the 
given loads. Similarly, the individuals solving their several 
economic problems within the same market, evaluate by their 
independent mutual adjustments the polycentric task of 
optimum allocation of resources and distribution of products. 
In either case, the overall problem can be represented by a set 
of simultaneous linear equations. This will actually determine 
the solution for the framework, while supplying only a theoretical 
model of the economic problem of society . 1 The calculators 
carry out an actual mathematical operation, while the indivi- 
duals in economic life solve the several problems by a compre- 
hensive judgment which can be formalized only in theory. 
We may note also that the problems of the computers are not 
polycentric and must be solved rigorously, while the mathe- 
matical model representing the economic problems of “Pro- 
ducers” and “Consumers” is always polycentric. 

1 The first comprehensive mathematical formulation of this problem 
is due to Enrico Barone (1908) whose paper on “The Ministry of Production 
in the Collectivist State*’, followed up an earlier suggestion of Pareto in 
Cours d’ economie politique , II, 1897. Barone’s paper was reprinted in English 
as an Appendix to Collectivist Economic Planning , ed. F. A. Hayek, Routledge, 

i8o the logic of liberty 


We can now resume our examination of manageability and 
(even at the risk of some repetitions) state more systematically 
the results to be derived for the limits of manageability from 
the concept of polycentricity. 

In order to give precision to the notion of manageability we 
should characterize tasks without regard to the manner of their 
actual performance and indeed — irrespective of the fact 
whether they can be performed at all. Only then could we 
undertake to survey the field of conceivable tasks, select those 
that are manageable and decide by what means each could be 
carried out. This programme, however, seems too vast for 
practical purposes, as it would demand the formulation of an 
indefinite range of impossible tasks. It is preferable, therefore, 
to approach the matter in a piecemeal manner by examining 
some of the tasks that are normally performed to-day and the 
methods which are successful in achieving them. Once it is clear 
why certain tasks can be performed in a certain manner, we can 
explore rationally a limited field of unmanageable tasks border- 
ing on those that are manageable. We may thus define a frontier 
beyond which lie tasks which for the time being must be 
pronounced unmanageable — as well as, no doubt, the tasks 
which the future progress of thought may yet teach us to master. 

Polycentricity, as defined by the loaded framework in Figure 2, 
was introduced in order to characterize certain tasks, which 
having been thus defined, were divided into three kinds: 
(1) formalizable, (2) not formalizable, (3) theoretically formal- 
izable. Only a small range of comparatively simple formalizable 
polycentric problems can be evaluated exactly: i.e. by taking 
into account simultaneously all the conditions of the problem. 
However far the improvement of computational methods may 
extend that range, there will always lie beyond it a vastly greater 
range of more complex polycentric problems which can be 
solved only by approximation from centre to centre. This 
method can be effectively organized and speeded up by using 
a team of independent calculators, one for each centre. The 
proper method of managing a polycentric task is therefore not 
by collecting all the data at one centre and evaluating them 
jointly. The much more powerful and more accurate method is 



to solve the problem in respect to one centre at a time, while 
pretending blindness in respect to all other conditions set by 
the problem as a whole, that is to the overwhelming majority 
of the relations to be fulfilled. It is the “unplanned” activity of a 
team of independent calculators each of whom limits his 
interest to the single centre of which he is in charge, which thus 
appears to be supported by the authority of established scientific 

Only when a task can be formalized as a mathematical 
problem can it be rigorously defined, irrespective of the way 
it may. be carried out. You have not clearly decided on decorat- 
ing a wall by a mural painting or on having a statue erected, 
until you have chosen the artist to do it. If instead of com- 
missioning one artist to paint your portrait, you decide to have 
it done by a committee of painters, whose members should 
take turns at applying the brush to the canvas, you will un- 
doubtedly get something that is a painting, but it will clearly be 
very different from what an individual artist could have 
accomplished. These examples illustrate that task and per- 
formance cannot be kept well apart in the case of non-formaliz- 
able problems. 

I have explained that economic problems take up an inter- 
mediate position between fully formalizable and entirely 
unformalizable tasks: they are theoretically formalizable. We 
can set up mathematical models of economic problems and 
speculate on mathematical methods of solving them. The fact 
that a mathematical model can be set up of the functions per- 
formed by a market economy as a whole, has in the past lent 
strength to the idea that the economic system could be managed 
centrally by solving the set of simultaneous equations con- 
stituting this model . 1 This project has been opposed by F. A. 
Hayek 2 on the grounds of its twofold impracticability; that it 
would be impossible to collect the requisite numerical data and 

i H. D. Dickinson, “Price Formation in a Socialist Community”, Economic 
Journal (1933). In O. Lange and F. M. Taylor, On The Economic Theory of 
Socialism (1938), and H. D. Dickinson, Economics of Socialism (i939 ), the 
solving of the simultaneous equations is still contemplated, but other 
methods of management are preferred. However, more recently Th. Balogh, 
(Political Quarterly, 1944, p. 258) refers to Barone as having mdicated—by 
the mathematical formulation of the economic optimum— the principles 
of a centrally planned economy. . 

* F. A. Hayek in Collectivist Economic Planmng, London (1935). 



that even if these were made available, the task of carrying out the 
proposed computations would be excessive. 

The foregoing discussion of polycentricity goes somewhat 
further in clarifying the situation. It points out firstly, that a 
theoretical model which is useful in revealing the system of 
choices involved in the economic system cannot in fact be used 
for calculating the result of these choices, because the symbols 
representing the “given data” have mostly no numerical 
significance. It does not essentially matter for this conclusion if 
the argument is restricted to the mathematical evaluation of only 
part of the choices performed in the economic system, as it is in 
the writings of the authors I have quoted above. Managerial 
skill can as little be replaced by a mathematical computation than 
housewifely prudence or a worker’s preference of one job for 
another when seeking employment. To assume empirically 
established “demand curves” for individually consumed pro- 
ducts and similarly observed “supply curves” for productive 
resources, does not elevate therefore the simultaneous equations 
defining the problem of production beyond the status of a 
mathematical model. 

Secondly, the much-vexed question as to the amount and 
worthwhileness of labour involved in evaluating a large set of 
simultaneous equations (H. D. Dickinson 1 2 * * * * * mentions sets of 
two or three thousand) has to be reconsidered in the light of 
what has been said concerning the computability of such sets. 
The number of simultaneous equations that can be successfully 
computed is usually restricted to very few indeed, on account 
of the inaccuracy of the given data. If your results tend to 
become meaningless in a problem of elastic deformation if you 
choose cases represented by more than twelve simultaneous 
equations, it is not likely that you will have many instances of 
economic equilibria with sufficiently accurately given data to 
justify larger systems of equations . 8 Moreover, it is difficult 

1 Economics of Socialism, p. 104. 

2 (a) Provided of course that all the data have significant values; if their 

vast majority is zero, the problem degenerates and can no longer be treated 

within the framework of this argument. 

(b) Economic calculations based on as much as fifty simultaneous linear 

equations have been recently carried out by Professor Wassily Leontief in 

evaluating “input-output” relations. I have been unable to find any published 
discussion of the effect which the inaccuracies of the given data had on the 

significance of his final results. An emphatic warning was given in this 


l8 3 

to see how the amount of labour which we are prepared to 
devote to the evaluation of such a system can materially shift 
the limit of k < 150, since e.g., a tenfold increase of this 
limit would increase the time of computation about a thousand- 
fold, and extend it over a whole year of continuous labour. By 
that time all the data would have become obsolete. 

Even if both these points could be overcome we know now 
that the proper way of evaluating the polycentric problem 
represented by the equations of an economic optimum would 
not consist in the direct evaluation of this set of equations, but 
in a process of approximation from centre to centre. The lesson 
of the Relaxation Method is that this procedure affords an 
enormous gain in speed, precision and economy of effort, and 
may be regarded in general as the only feasible one. 1 It teaches 
us that, contrary to the usual view, the true scientific handling 
of an economic system of many centres does not consist in 
taking into account jointly all the elements of the problem, 
but in disregarding their vast majority at each move, exactly in 
the way in which a system of profit-seeking individuals in fact 
operates in a market of resources and products. 

I should like, however, to re-state these conclusions once 
more quite apart from the controversy about central planning. 
Just as a set of simultaneous equations represents the mathe- 
matical model of a poly centric system of economy , so the Relaxation 
Method represents the mathematical model of the manner in 
which economic operations carried out independently at each 
economic centre , produce the solution of the economic task. Overall 
self-co-ordination of the activities performed at each economic 
centre results from the same logic as for the team of calculators 
described before. The scope of evaluation by self-co-ordination 
is vastly greater than that of evaluation by central direction; it 

respect by Professor Oscar Morgenstern in a discussion of Professor Leontief ’s 
paper to the American Economic Association (Cleveland, Ohio, Dec. 27-30, 
1948) published in the American Economic Review , 39, 1949, p. 238. While 
Morgenstern admits that “the solution of simultaneous linear equations of 
numbers exceeding twenty or thirty is not an impossible undertaking to-day” 
he clearly indicates that this can be done only “by gathering data of superior 
quality with the errors of observation known as much as possible”. 

1 Suppose you have 1 ,000 computing machines operating at a thousand 
centres of one polycentric task and that you could replace these by one single 
machine evaluating the whole problem ; the amount of labour would be in- 
creased a millionfold. 

184 the logic of liberty 

will succeed over a wide range of polycentricity in which central 
direction is completely impracticable. In making use of these 
conclusions it should always be borne in mind that they are 
merely an amplification of a mathematical model which cannot 
be actually evaluated, for most of the symbols representing the 
“given data” have no numerical significance. The evaluation of 
the local problems arising at each economic centre is in fact 
done by a balanced assessment of the situation at that centre, 
without any calculation at all. 

The conclusions drawn here from the polycentric nature 
of the economic task are more general than those reached in the 
preceding essay, The Span of Central Direction (p. 1 1 1 above). 
I started there from the assumption that the market does in 
fact produce a system of spontaneous order and thus solves — 
as we would now say — a polycentric task. It was then shown 
that this form of social management could not be replaced by 
that of corporate order, without paralysing the execution of the 
polycentric task. Beyond this, no attempt was made there at 
examining the justification of the market as a method of 
overall economic management. 

Part III. Critique of Freedom 

The Government of Spontaneous Order 

Having sufficiently emphasized the qualifications to which 
it is subject, we shall carry forward for further discussion the 
following thesis: “A poly centric task can be socially managed 
only by a system of mutual adjustments.” 

From this it immediately follows that if no system of mutual 
adjustments can be devised which will lead to the social per- 
formance of a polycentric task, then it is socially unmanageable. 
In other words, such a task can be approximated only to the 
extent to which a system of feasible mutual adjustments will 
lead to something resembling it. The implications of this 
conclusion will be more easily recognized if we first cast a 
brief glance at the institutions which uphold mutual adjust- 
ment in the existing systems of spontaneous order. 



In an earlier part of this book I have described broadly 
the institutions through which scientific opinion rules over 
scientific life and maintains vital contacts with circles outside 
science. All intellectual systems of spontaneous order are 
similarly governed by professional opinion, which is usually 
organized into a professional body. 

Spontaneous economic systems are not governed by pro- 
fessional opinion, for which sufficient foundation is lacking, but 
by institutions of property and exchange. Dominant over these 
is the code of private law. In the Code Civil of France (leaving 
out of account the law of the family) Duguit finds only three 
fundamental rules and no more — freedom of contract, the 
inviolability of property, and the duty to compensate another for 
damage due to one’s own fault. 1 Thus it transpires that the main 
function of the existing spontaneous order of jurisdiction is to 
govern the spontaneous order of economic life. A consultative 
system of law develops and enforces the rules under which the 
competitive system of production and distribution operates. No 
marketing system can function without a legal framework 
which guarantees adequate proprietary powers and enforces 

The greatest difficulty in a system of universal State owner- 
ship of industry, as now established in Soviet Russia and 
approximated in the countries adjoining Russia, lies in the 
absence of an effective legal order which would enforce con- 
tracts and allocate responsibility for damages according to 
fixed rules. There exists a complete Civil Code in Russia proper 
which could be called upon for this purpose. 2 Time and again 
the Soviet Government has pressed its enterprises to fight for 
their rights against each other, realizing that only in this manner 
could order be maintained within its productive system. Yet 
these appeals do not seem to have taken effect. All Soviet 
enterprises are financed and strictly controlled by various 

1 J. Walter Jones, Historical Introduction to the Theory of Law , Oxford 
(1940) p. 1 14. 

2 “Soviet Russia has now a full set of Codes and Acts such as usually 
compose the private or commercial legislation of a modem country”, writes 
S. Dobrin in the Law Quarterly Review , Vol. 49 (1933) p. 260. “Here and 
there [he says] a bourgeois lawyer may find in a Soviet Commercial Act 
some clause or clauses reminding him that the act which he has in his hands 
is an act of a socialist State, but the bulk of the act will appear to him ex- 
tremely familiar — more or less an ordinary enactment of an ordinary modern 
country on the matter in question.” 




branches of the same State Bank, to which they have to account 
for their funds. Further control over these enterprises is 
exercised by the central planning authority, which supervises 
their output. Considering these tight restrictions as well as the 
state of chronic inflation which makes all goods saleable without 
serious losses, it is not surprising that Soviet enterprises show no 
initiative or inclination to go to court against each other, in 
order to secure payment from a defaulting contractual partner. 
Thus the fitful and sporadic fulfilment of contractual obligations 
in Russia continues to spread disorder and confirms that the 
existence and application of private law is an essential require- 
ment for the maintenance of an ordered polycentric system of 
production, even under universal State ownership. 

Generally speaking, the mutual adjustments required for 
the establishment of a competitive economic order must be 
initiated by individual agents empowered to dispose of resources 
and products, subject to general rules; these mutual adjust- 
ments are bargains concluded through the market; the applica- 
tion of general rules to conflicts between bargainers constitutes 
the legal order of private law, which is itself a system of mutual 
adjustments. Economic liberty and an important range of 
juridical independence thus jointly form the institutional basis 
for the social performance of an economic task of a polycentric 

Freedom and Manageability 

We have come to the conclusion that the social management 
of polycentric tasks requires a set of free institutions. More 
particularly, that the task of allocating a multitude of resources 
to a large number of productive centres for the purpose of 
processing them into products of such variety as is usual to-day 
and distributing the latter rationally to consumers numbering 
tens of millions, requires for its social management a system of 
civil law which establishes rights of (marketable) property and 
enforces contracts. This result is fairly close to what Marx 
expressed by saying that “the forces of production” determine 
“the relations of production”. Had his followers correctly 
applied this view to the prospects of a system of state-ownership, 
they would have concluded that since this system had the same 
economic task to perform as capitalism, it could function only 



insofar as it operated through the same “productive relations”, 
i.e. the same legal order of property and contract. That might 
have saved humanity from much useless strife. 

The opposite error, committed by the adherents of laissez- 
faire , consisted essentially in assuming that there is only one 
economic optimum that can be achieved by the market and that, 
correspondingly, only one set of proprietary and contractual laws 
is compatible with an economy aiming at this unique economic 
optimum. I have quoted Dickens for a denunciation of the 
manner in which the evil effects of existing institutions were 
pronounced ineradicable by powerful interests, informed by 
popular economic theories, a hundred years ago. But it is fair 
to add that in spite of this the past century offered in practice a 
consistent denial of laissez-faire . It was the century of continuous 
social reform, which proved that there exists an indefinite range 
of relative optima towards which a market economy can tend. 
It demonstrated that it is the task of social legislation to dis- 
cover and implement improvements of the institutional frame- 
work, for the purpose of deliberately modifying the system of 
spontaneous order established by the market. 

This movement for economic reform may yet go on in- 
definitely. It largely embodies our hopes of a good society. 
But there is a considerable literature to-day which displays 
much ingenuity in suggesting improvements of the economic 
optimum, while hardly paying any attention to the question of 
their institutional implementation. The theoretical formaliza- 
tion of economic tasks lends us the power to define precisely 
a whole range of such tasks, quite irrespective of their manage- 
ability. Modern economic theory has provided us with a 
valuable analysis of the limitations to which the existing system 
of private enterprise is subject, such as imperfect competition, 
increasing returns and indivisible cost-items ; and this has led to 
the formulation of new systems in which these shortcomings are 
eliminated. Proposals were made for establishing perfect 
competition by replacing the test of commercial profit by the 
criterion that “marginal costs” be equated to “marginal returns”. 
Other proposals included the governmental rewarding of 
investments yielding “increasing returns”, on the basis of their 
total cost-curve. Under these new rules the market should tend 
towards perfect optima. 

1 88 


Most of the writers putting forward such suggestions were 
Socialists and implied that the new perfectioned market 
economy could be enforced under government ownership. But 
this neglects the problem of manageability. The fact that the 
State owns the shares of an enterprise and appoints its manager 
does not in itself lend it new powers of control over the manager. 
It could gain such powers only by inventing new tests of 
efficiency, which would work as reliably as those hitherto used 
by the private shareholders and yet impel the manager to do 
something different from what he did before. If, however, such 
tests could be invented and applied for rewarding fairly and 
consistently ten thousand state-appointed managers, the same 
tests could be equally applied for rewarding privately appointed 
managers and through them the shareholders of the enterprises. 
If they cannot be used for the control of private enterprises, 
neither can they be used for the control of public enterprises, for 
the problem of management involved in the two cases is the 
same. 1 Proposals for the perfectioning of the economic optimum 
to be achieved by the market, which disregard these in- 
stitutional problems, are no more than exercises in the con- 
struction of mathematical models. 

Some writers turn from the shortcomings of our marketing 
system to something vaguely designated as “the totalitarian 
alternative”. Whether this is done in hope, fear or despair, it 
is in any case meaningless. Whatever the exact manner in which 
the economic system of totalitarian countries operates — of 
which our information is still very incomplete — it is certainly 
not by direction from one centre. Most of the rigid economic 
controls exercised by the government (so far as they are genuine 
and not merely serving the pretence of central planning) are 
concerned with the hemming in of an excessive monetary 
circulation. 2 There is no indication whatever in such facts 
as are known — as there is no possibility for it in theory — 
that totalitarian governments can establish a perfect eco- 
nomic optimum by exercising their legally unlimited executive 

Contemporary opinion with its indiscriminate taste for the 
explanation of historic events as rational responses to economic 

1 Compare pp. 149-52 above. See also A. W. Lewis, Principles of 
Economic Planning, 1949 (p. 104): "Nationalized industries must pay their 
wav on a non-discriminatory basis.” 



or technical requirements, is inclined to regard the abolition 
of economic and other freedom in Russia as an outcome of a 
“capitalist crisis” or of “modern technology”, of the “necessity 
of rapid industrialization”, and the like. These explanations, 
which have never been argued in detail, appear to be without 
any foundation, and do not in my view deserve the labour of 

The “totalitarian alternative” is a figment of the mind, but 
there exist important alternatives on a smaller scale between 
different forms of management, corresponding to somewhat 
different economic tasks. If you want to keep unemployment 
down to one and a half per cent, as it is in Britain to-day, then 
you must put up (so long as the mobility of labour and capital 
is not greatly increased beyond its present level) with price 
controls, resulting in queueing of customers and their exposure 
to favouritism and discourtesy on the part of the shopkeepers, 
and put up also with a labyrinth of licensing laws which compel 
you for example to argue with an official whether you need a 
new bath-tub or not in place of one which shows depressing 
signs of half a century’s use by past owners. Equalitarianism 
raises the same issues by contributing to inflationary pressure 
and produces, moreover, an unpleasant tendency towards 
improvident spending on business accounts. Again, in adminis- 
tering large-scale social services you may have to choose the 
degree to which you will check abuses by penalizing the most 
needy beneficiaries. Marginal choices between economic 
efficiency and economic liberty are real and important, and they 
form merely one instance among many similar choices between 
different kinds of social good that reformers must bear in mind 
at every turn. 

To sum up so far the argument of this section. The economic 
optimum pursued by modem society to-day fundamentally 
determines the nature of the institutions required for its manage- 
ment; but this leaves open an unlimited possibility for creative 
reforms and even permits, though only over a narrow range, 
the joint variation of economic targets and of the institutions, 
required for their achievement. 

With this perspective in mind we may now return to the 
disturbing conclusion reached at the close of the preceding 
section, where I said that both economic liberty and judicial 


order established for safeguarding and governing economic 
liberty are justifiable only for the purpose of managing a parti- 
cular economic task. If that is accepted, then (in spite of all the 
cautioning just given both against rigid and extremist assump- 
tions) it follows that if the economic optimum at which we are 
aiming were radically changed, there might well be no place 
left either for economic liberty or for a system of contractual law 
within which to exercise that liberty, nor for a judicial system 
through which to develop and administer such law. 

I believe this to be true, and there are a variety of cases which 
can be brought up to illustrate it. In the previous essay, Profits 
and Polycentricity , I have pointed out some relevant instances. 
If a modern economic system, once adjusted through the market, 
could go on operating indefinitely on identical lines of produc- 
tion and distribution, it would cease to represent a task of poly- 
centric adjustments and could henceforth appropriately be 
governed by custom and public law. Assuming a stationary 
population, all productive functions could be made hereditary 
and the distributive system also fixed by a system of hereditary 
dues. We would have an economy based on status in which “the 
channels of social obligations function as substitute for the 
market’ \ This quotation is from Raymond Firth’s description of 
Polynesian economy . 1 * * * * * * * 

In an earlier essay, The Span of Central Direction , I 
have also mentioned the opposite extreme of an economy, sub- 
jected to technical changes of such rapidity that the re-allocation 
of resources and re-distribution of products cannot be left to the 
market, for fear of excessive windfall profits on the one hand 
and of quite undeserved hardships on the other. Such conditions 
arise regularly in wartime and call for rationing and price- 
control. These measures are again an attempt at replacing 

1 Raymond Firth, Primitive Polynesian Economy (1939), p. 36. The author 

seems to suggest that this form of economic management is unrelated to the 

economic task performed. “It must be emphasized [he says] that it is not the 

fewness of the native wants that allows the system to function without a 

price mechanism ; it is the specific social pattern of the ways in which these 

wants are met, and the goods and service transferred / 9 It may be that the 
economic function performed here — or something equivalent to it — could 

be carried out through the market, but the relevant point is that it would 

be totally impossible to establish a specific social pattern of personal obliga- 
tions which would replace the usual functions of modem markets, while the 
fewness and the repetitive nature of the wants to be met in a primitive society 

permits to dispense with the market. 


I 9 I 

market-operations — at least partly — by a system of public 

It is indeed quite easy, and not without interest, to construct 
examples of polycentric economic tasks which would be entirely 
unmanageable by use of a market mechanism. I shall mention 
two of these. 

(1) Assume the technology of production to be the same as 
it is at present: requiring the allocation of a large variety of 
resources to say a hundred thousand different productive 
centres; and add the condition that all products are either for 
collective use or are distributed in the form of gratuitous social 
services. The position is reached if we assume that taxation is 
increased (from forty per cent, as it averages to-day in Britain) 
to a hundred per cent, of income. There would then be no 
material incentives in earning wages, profits, etc., and no likeli- 
hood that men as producers would be prepared to compete for 
such payments if they were offered to them. In that case the 
polycentric task of producing at minimum costs (and of deciding 
a total level of production at which marginal costs would equal 
marginal product) would be strictly insoluble . 1 

(2) As a complementary example we may imagine a tech- 
nology producing goods for the satisfaction of individual con- 
sumers, which does so mainly at the expense of social costs, i.e. 
smells, radiations, infections, noises, river-pollutions, general 
ugliness, etc., spreading all over the country; each factory 
causing a particular kind of social cost, which would depend 
in some definite manner on its output. The economic task of the 
community would then be to obtain a total of goods and services 
at a minimum of total social costs, expressed as a total of un- 
pleasant repercussions, and to fix total output at a level where 
any further increase of these repercussions would be just 
equal and opposite to the marginal value of the total product. 
This is a polycentric task, since it requires the balancing of a 
large number of variable items against all others. We may 
exclude the possibility that the balance can be achieved within 
one mind and consequently its attainment would have to rely 
on a system of mutual adjustments between a large number of 

1 Colin Clark, Econ. Journ 55 (i945)> 37L has suggested that 25 per 
cent, of the national income may be about the limit for taxation in any non- 
totalitarian country in times of peace. 



centres. This could be done if the nuisance created by each 
factory could be assessed as a function of its output and brought 
home to the manager in the form of fines, graded according to 
the output. But this is impossible, for there can exist no market 
for the mutual exchange of a great variety of smells, noises, 
infections, river-pollutions, etc., arising at thousands of different 
places. A technology of this kind would therefore be entirely 

I shall concentrate for the purpose of the following argu- 
ment on case 1. For it is quite within the realm of possibility 
that we might sometimes be forced to aim at an economic task 
of this kind. A wealthy country engaged during half a century 
in an all-out armaments race; or permanently throwing all its 
resources above a minimum of individual consumption into the 
checking of some natural catastrophe, such as the spread of a 
new deadly plague or a sudden deterioration of the climate; 
or perhaps deciding for reasons of equity to increase social 
services to a point where most of the national income would be 
distributed in this form — such a country would have to raise the 
level of taxation permanently to a level approaching a hundred 
per cent. While this would make any rational allocation of 
resources impossible, resources would nevertheless have to be 
allocated, even though we would have no more than vague 
guesses on which to base such allocation. A schedule once 
adopted would probably be carried on indefinitely, since there 
could be no rational way of improving on it. What kind of 
economic administration would be adopted, we cannot tell 
and need not discuss here. One conclusion only interests us 
here : that the market and the whole system of civil law that 
governs it would disappear. There would be no room for 
economic liberty, property, contractual obligations, nor for the 
whole edifice of law and jurisprudence, the greater part of which 
is concerned with property and contractual obligations. 

Status of Public Liberties 

Is then public liberty in no way a purpose in itself? Obviously 
not insofar as it is a method for the social management of a 
given economic task. We are not however inescapably bound to 
any particular economic task and may conceivably prefer a 



state of relative poverty in which we can maintain a freer 
economic order. Opulence and even the instruments of defence 
are not altogether overriding requirements of national life. 
Economic tasks cannot even be rationally formulated, without 
presupposing a society in which other purposes than those of 
satisfying the senses are also embodied; as no society can be 
based exclusively on the sensual appetites of its members. Nor 
can any nation survive morally, and in the end physically, by 
ruthlessly exploiting its armed power. National greatness 
depends as much on generosity as on force; the most important 
gains were achieved by nations when they risked their vital 
interests by exercising moral restraint in their relation to other 
nations. A nation may indeed have to court disaster in upholding 
its moral nature if it is to avoid surviving as a kind of people it 
does not want to be. Hence, economic tasks — whether aiming 
at the acquisition of wealth or the instruments of defence — 
are never rigidly given; on the contrary, the rational acceptance 
of an economic task must always fully weigh up its social 
implications. The necessity of making marginal day-to-day 
choices between economic efficiency and economic liberty has 
been pointed out already in the previous section. 

Public liberty can be fully upheld as an aim in itself, insofar 
as it is the method for the social management of purposes that 
are aims in themselves. Freedom of science, freedom of worship, 
freedom of thought in general, are public institutions by which 
society opens to its members the opportunity for serving aims 
that are purposes in themselves. By establishing these freedoms, 
society constitutes itself as a community of people believing in 
the validity and power of things of the mind and in our obliga- 
tion to these things. Logically, the acceptance of these beliefs 
is anterior to freedom. There is no justification for demanding 
freedom of thought unless you believe that thought has a 
power of its own. Yet it is true that in the mental development 
of some people in our own days the causal sequence was 
often reversed. They first discovered that they could no longer 
bear to repeat lies and must contradict, and only later realized 
that this implied a belief in the possibility of knowing the truth 
and the obligation of telling it. The forceful repudiation of 
Communism by many Western writers formerly sympathetic 
to it, which occurred in the years following the Moscow trials 



of 1936-38, has made the re-establishment of absolute values 
the pre-eminent concern of these writers. The first protest Tito 
raised against Moscow was that the Party cannot overrule truth. 
Generally speaking, it was the fall of liberty in Europe that 
startled the West into a new consciousness of the beliefs on 
which these liberties stand. But the beliefs remain nevertheless 
logically prior to these liberties. 

Critique of Public Liberties 

If this is the ground on which public liberties seek to justify 
themselves, then they inevitably incur, on their own showing, a 
threefold charge which has in fact been steadily levelled at them 
from the totalitarian standpoint. It appears that the conduct of 
public affairs by this method; 1. surrenders the public good to 
the personal decisions and motives of individuals; 2. thus 
submits society to the rule of a privileged oligarchy ; and 3. allows 
at the same time society to drift in a direction willed by no 

Let me put the case for these several charges. 

(1) Individuals, whether producers or consumers, who find 
their livelihood by operating in a market, are engaged in the 
competitive pursuit of personal gain. Scientists, judges, 
scholars, ministers of religion, etc., are guided by systems of 
thought to the growth, application or dissemination of which 
they are dedicated; their actions are determined by their 
professional interests. All these persons engaged in forming 
various systems of spontaneous order, are guided by their 
standard incentives which do not aim at promoting the welfare 
of the social body as a whole. The business man must seek 
profit, the judge find the law, the scientist pursue discovery, 
for that is what makes him a business man, a judge, or a scientist 
as the case may be — of the manner in which his action affects 
the public good as a whole he is ignorant, nor could he allow 
himself to be deflected by such knowledge if he possessed it, 
from the performance of his professional duty. 1 

1 For a more general discussion of this point I wish to quote again my 
article, “The Growth of Thought in Society,' * (Economica 1941): “ ... in- 
herent in the mechanical nature of social organizations is the divergence 
between the standard motive of the individual and the purpose of the whole, 
in which he participates. A subordinate working for a corporation has to be 
careful and disciplined in his duties but beyond that the interests of the 



(2) Great power is exercised over the public good by such 
individuals. Under capitalism, business men handle the major 
part of the nation’s wealth and direct the day-to-day activities 
of the people engaged in producing it. The social interests 
entrusted to an independent judiciary and those affected by the 
free pursuit of science are no less momentous. Indeed, the 
mental activities cultivated by various branches of the writing 
profession — poets, journalists, philosophers, novelists, prea- 
chers, historians, economists — are perhaps the most decisive in 
shaping public affairs and sealing the fate of society. Viewed in 
this light the activities of persons engaged in the competitive, 
consultative and persuasive adjustments which constitute our 

corporation which he serves are not his concern. His attention is properly 
due to the detail entrusted to him and to the exact intentions of his superior; 
his legitimate incentive is to gain promotion by pleasing his superior. The 
corporation must be so organized and directed that an employee will advance 
its interests best by following this line of action. The position of the individual 
partaking in a system of spontaneous order is similar. The problem 
before him comprises his entire responsibility. To the solution of his own 
problem, to the fulfilment of his own special task, he owes his entire devotion. 
The rules by which he has to be guided in doing so and by which he has to 
gain public approval for his achievements, must be such as to safeguard the 
advancement of the spontaneous order, whenever individual actions are 
taken in compliance with them. 

The official character of the employee or public official, as distinct from 
his private person, and the limitations set upon his intentions by discipline, 
are usually known well enough. But the official character of the person acting 
independently of the public individual partaking in a dynamic system, is not 
commonly recognized as clearly. 

Economic science has analysed the situation with respect to a system of 
competitive production. The standard incentives of the individual producer 
have been defined and his normal obligations considered, as distinct from his 
private motives inducing him to pursue those incentives and to accept those 
obligations. It is also clear that he has no responsibility for the advancement 
of national or planetary prosperity in general, which is the purpose of the 
system, taken as a whole, in which he participates. He may try to reform 
business life, both as a pioneer at his own works or as a voter or writer, etc. 
He may give all his earnings to charities or to the Communist Party ; but he 
cannot carry on in business unless he keeps — while at his job — to the pursuit 
of profits for his firm. 

The double distinction between private motives and standard motives, 
and between these and a general purpose, is evident in judicial procedure. 
A man coming forth to give evidence may be prompted by a variety of 
motives ; a barrister may take up a case for the love of money or to please his 
vanity, or for political reasons, or from compassion; a judge may be guided 
in his career by ambition, love of juridical scholarship, etc. But once counsel 
has been briefed, the judge has taken the chair, witness has been sworn in, 
each of them falls into the pattern of his official motives. To these they must 
restrict themselves: keeping out not only their private inclinations, but also 
any attempt to aim directly at the higher purpose in which they are participa- 
ting. Witness must stick to facts and must not plead ; counsel must argue his 
case and not assume a judicial attitude ; the judge must apply the law, even 
though he should desire to amend it.” 


systems of spontaneous order, may well appear as the regime of 
an oligarchy usurping public power. The personal advantages 
possessed by this oligarchy in virtue of its position may make 
their irresponsible prerogatives the more invidious. Particularly, 
since the inheritance of property and the enhanced oppor- 
tunities offered to the children of more highly placed parents, 
tend to make their position of power and privilege hereditary 
within a restricted class of families; the class which under the 
influence of Marxism has become known as the bourgeoisie. 
It is in this sense that Western public liberties may be described 
as “bourgeois liberties’’, under which the public interest is 
withdrawn from the control of the State only to be submitted to 
the control of an irresponsible bourgeois oligarchy. 

(3) Though the members of the “oligarchy” who primarily 
make use of the public liberties in Western society draw 
considerable benefit from this function, the fact remains that the 
systems of spontaneous order formed by their individual 
activities are moving as a whole in directions not specifically 
willed by them or anyone else. Public liberties constitute a 
system of self-co-ordination under which society moves towards 
unknown destinations. 

Take economic life. It is of course true to say that “In 
1938 Britain produced X million tons of steel and Y million 
tons of coal”, but only in the sense in which it is correct to say : 
“This morning Britain shaved 10 million faces and blew 40 
million noses”. These things happened in Britain because the 
people concerned had reason to do them, not because any com- 
prehensive intention had willed them to do so. They would be 
represented as so willed in a “planned economy”, where the 
tons of steel and coal to be produced are among the favourite 
“production targets”. Such targets, however, like the plans of 
which they form part, are little more than figments of the mind. 1 

Again, in the jurisdiction of the courts a well organized 
process goes on which is distinct and often contrary to the public 
interest as conceived by the State ; while its consequences may 
not be desired by the courts either, nor even foreseen by them. 
When the lawyers and the courts of law successfully denied to 
the Stuarts in England the King’s right to sit in his own court, 
they won a political victory, but not for themselves. They 
1 See pp. 1 33-1 37 above. 



established the supremacy of the law over the monarch. When 
the seven bishops indicted for libel by James II were acquitted 
by a court of law, the monarchy was shaken because it had come 
into conflict with this principle, operating impersonally. 
Similarly, the acquittal under Louis XVI of Cardinal de Rohan 
(involved in the necklace affair) by the Parliament of Paris gave 
the signal to the French Revolution, which that Parliament 
could never have dreamt of and would have abhorred if it had. 
The acquittal in 1878 of Vera Zasulitch who shot General 
Trepow, or of Dimitrov in 1933 accused of firing the Reichstag, 
were all acts of an independent judiciary, conflicting with the 
public interest as seen by the responsible executive, and fraught 
with unforeseen and indeed altogether unpredictable conse- 
quences. The legal theory of modern authoritarianism sets out 
to eliminate such contradictions, by denying validity to any 
legal rule insofar as it conflicts with the executive policy of the 
government. 1 But insofar as this policy is put into effect it 
abolishes in fact the rule of law and the liberty of the citizen 
under the law. 

The State which subsidizes scientific research aims at the 
advancement of science ; but the ensuing discoveries are unpre- 
meditated and indeed unforeseeable. So long as science is free, 
humanity is travelling at its peril towards unknown destinations. 
The discovery of atomic fission at the end of 1938 has led within 
six and a half years to the construction of the atomic bomb, 
which has so far failed to wreck humanity only because of the 
extreme technical difficulty of manufacturing these bombs. If 
some further discovery would make atomic bombs readily 
available, so that any small plant could make one at the cost of 
£ 10 , the threat to the community from criminals or subversive 
individuals, who might get hold of such weapons, would become 
so intense that only the strictest supervision of the entire human 
race by one central police authority could sustain the continued 
existense of humanity on the planet. Yet to guard against such 
dangers by planning the progress of science, so that it may 

1 Compare e.g., J. W. Jones, Historic Introduction to the Theory of Law 
(1940), Chapter XI. A recent news-item may serve to illustrate the point. 
The Manchester Guardian reports on 25th September, 1949, from Prague 
that “Mr. Harvey Moore, a British guest at the Czechoslovak Lawyers’ 
Congress here, was promptly denounced by the Czech Deputy Minister of 
Justice, Dr. Dressier, as ‘an old-fashioned bourgeois reactionary* when he 
advocated the independence of lawyers and judges.’* 



yield only results that are socially desirable, is impossible. To 
“plan” science is to suppress it; and in this sense only could 
the “planning of science” protect us from the consequences of 
scientific progress. 

These are heavy accusations against the management of 
society by spontaneous order. In the next section I shall try 
to say what I can in reply to them and to other criticisms of 
liberty, brought up by previous parts of this essay. 

The Defence of Liberty 

The logic of public liberty is to co-ordinate independent 
individual actions spontaneously in the service of certain tasks. 
We were led to face up to the possibility that some of the tasks 
pursued by modern society may have in future to be abandoned. 
The economic task of society may be re-set in response to 
quite novel technical developments, in a manner which would 
eliminate the market and much of our judicial system. The day 
may come when the free pursuit of natural science may have to 
be curbed. There are many ways in which the most precious 
liberties of to-day may cease to be relevant or even admissible. 

But I doubt whether by such speculations we can gain any 
true guidance for ourselves or give any to later generations. 
We cannot foresee sufficiently the manner in which, and the 
extent to which, the technological setting of public liberties is 
likely to change. I have said before in this book that our primary 
aim must be to form a good society, respecting truth and justice, 
and cultivating love between fellow-citizens. The holding of the 
ultimate beliefs which constitute the good society, should make 
to-day such a society both good and free. I trust that in seeking 
to establish a good society, man is fulfilling his transcendent 
obligation and that it is right to accept as inscrutable the 
ultimate ends to which this may lead. 

For we are adrift; subject to the hazards of this universe 
whose future is unknown to us. The recent rise of man from the 
ranks of the animals, his brief effort at civilized life, his luminous 
creative achievements through which he has come to see himself 
in the perspective of space, time and history — these are events 
which leave undeclared their ultimate origin and future course. 



The conceptions by the light of which men will judge our own 
ideas in a thousand years — or perhaps even in fifty years — are 
beyond our guess. If a library of the year 3000 came into our 
hands to-day, we could not understand its contents. How should 
we consciously determine a future which is, by its very nature, 
beyond our comprehension? Such presumption reveals only the 
narrowness of an outlook uninformed by humility. The super- 
planner who — like Engels in the passionate declaration of the 
“Anti-Diihring” — announces that men “with full consciousness 
will fashion their own history* * and “leap from the realm of 
necessity into the realm of freedom”, reveals the megalomania 
of a mind rendered unimaginative by abandoning all faith in 
God. When such men are eventually granted power to control 
the ultimate destinies of their fellow men, they reduce them to 
mere fodder for their unbridled enterprises. And presently 
illusions of grandeur turn into illusions of persecution, and 
convert the planning of history into a reign of terror. 

The logic which prevents man from controlling the drift 
of history also limits the possibility of eliminating the oligarchic 
system under which a free society achieves its aims. The tasks 
which can be achieved only by independent mutual adjustments 
demand an institutional framework which will uphold inde- 
pendent positions. The holders of such positions will have to 
pursue the standard obligations and incentives of their positions, 
turning a blind eye on the public interest as a whole ; while the 
higher type of ability which the performance of such inde- 
pendent functions often requires will inevitably possess a 
scarcity value, for which members of the “oligarchy” will be 
able to exact a substantial price in the form of fees, salaries, 
profits, etc. *** iiSw*** 

Seen in this perspective, such a system of privileges should 
be acceptable, particularly if combined with equality of oppor- 
tunities. At any rate, its continued existence seems indispensable, 
until social solidarity achieves as yet unexplored levels of 
sensibility. Our desire for complete brotherhood among men 
must always make allowance for the requirements of the social 
machinery. Where members of the bourgeoisie helped into 
power a regime — like that of Lenin or Hitler — which destroyed 
or greatly reduced their own privileges, their class was invariably 
replaced by a servile praetorian guard, enjoying no fewer 



privileges while suppressing or perverting the great heritage 
which the bourgeoisie had cultivated throughout the period of 
its ascendancy. 

Those who would break up a society which can be operated 
only by the interplay of independent, narrow and often purely 
selfish individual aims, should ponder on it that the elimination 
of the existing shortcomings of our society may bring about 
immeasurably greater evil. However often this kind of warning 
may have proved false in the past, its principle is still true. 
It remains in the last resort for each of us in his own conscience 
to balance the perils of complacency against those of reckless- 
ness. The danger that such ultimate decision may prove 
erroneous seems to me comparatively slight, so long as we 
continue humbly to search for guidance on matters over which 
we can never hope to achieve ultimate mastery. 


Academic curricula, 27 
Academic freedom 
and research, 33 ff. 
as form of organization, 34 
and appointments, 42 
institutional safeguards of, 43 
Acton, Lord, 37 
“Administrative cousins”, 121 
Aesthetic values and the nervous 
system, 9 

After Lenin (M. Farbman), 131 n. 
Alexander, F., 37 
Amoeba, purposive action, 23 
Anaesthesia, hypnotic, 14 
Andersag, 51 
Anderson, 83 

Animals looking into the future 
(Kepner), 25 n. 

Anti-authoritarianism, 95, 102 
Anti-scientific views, 58, 65 
Aristotle, 94 
Artificial lighting, 72 ff. 

Ashby, Eric, 65 n. 

Association of Scientific Workers, 
67 n., 86 
Aston, F. W., 83 
Astrology, 9 ff., 17, 27, 38. 
Astronomy, 70, 74 
Atomic bomb, 197 
Atomic processes, 13, 38, 72 
Attlee, C., 5, 30 
Autonomy of science, 58 ff., 66 

Bacon, F., 8, 15 
Balogh, Th., 181 n. 

Barkla, 83 

Barone, E., 179 n. 181 n. 
Belief as commitment, 23 ff. 
Bentham, J., 104 
Bergel, 51 

Bernal, J. D., 68, 86 
Bevin, E., 5 

Biology, 27 

Blackett, P. M. S., 12 ff. 

Bohr, N., 72 
Boring, E. G., 14 n. 
Born, M., 51 
Bourgeoisie, 196 
Boyle’s law, 20 
Boyle; R., 20, 55 
Bracton, 158 

Bragg, W. H., 83 

Bragg, W. L., 56, 83 
Braid, J., 14 

Brain Mechanism and Intelligence 
(K. Lashley), 25 n. 

Brasch, 51 
Breit, 51 

British empiricism, 98 
Brutzkus, B., 128 n. 

Buber, M., 21 


and social justice, 144 
criticism of, 165 
and Socialism, 165 
Captain and crew, 116 ff. 

Chadwick, Sir James, 83 
Chance and roulette, 16 
and dice, 21 
Charcot, J. M., 15 
Chess, 34, 134 

Christian churches, 93 ff., 108, 

Churchill, W., 30 n., 80 
Clark, C., 191 n. 

Class- war, 5, 29, 100 
Cline, 51 

Cockcroft, Sir John, 51 
Cole, G. D. H., 37 
Columbus, 22, 52 
Communicating vessels, 155 
Communism, 193 
Communist Manifesto (Marx), 101 
Competitive adjustment, 164, 185 
Compton, A. H., 83 
Computing machines, 172, 183 
Confessions (Rousseau), 100 
“Consultation” in science, law and 
business, 164 

Consumption, 139, 143, 160 ff. 
Contempt of Freedom (M. Polanyi), 
68 n. 

Controls, 146, 189 
Copernicus, 70 ff., 78 
“Corporate order”, 112 ff. 
and size of organization, 114 
and spontaneous order, 114ff, 
134 ff. 

Court-room procedure, 20, 45 
Crime and Punishment (Dostoevski), 

Crowther, J. G., 68, 78, 80, 83 





Darwin, Charles, 16, 19, 56, 64, 68 

Darwin, Sir Charles, 12, 51 

de Broglie, L. V., 51 

Demand curves, 182 

De Revolutionises (Copernicus), 70 

Descartes, 8, 15 

Dialectical materialism, 60 ff. 

Dice, 21 

Dickens, C., 169, 187 
Dickinson, H. D., 124, 181 n., 182 
Dirac, P. A. M., 51, 83 
Distribution of goods, 140, 146 
Dobb, M., 125, 132 
Dobrin, S., 185 n. 

Dostoevski, F. M., 103 
Doubinin, N. P., 64 
Dreyfus, 96 
Duguit, 185 
Durbin, E. F. M., 124 

Economic Analysis and Policy 
(J. E. Mead), 126 n. 

Economic efficiency and liberty, 
189, 193 

Economic optimum, 179, 187 ff., 


and social justice, 144 
“diffuse” effects in, 148, 191 
criteria of efficiency, 152, 188 
and professionalism, 166 
polycentric tasks in, 177, 181 
mathematical computation in, 178, 

legal framework of, 185 
Economics of Control (A. P. Lerner), 
126 n. 

Einstein, A., 11 ff., 56, 72 ff., 82 
Electron, 11 
Elliotson, J., 14 
Embryonic development, 88 
Encounter, 21 
Engels, F., 28, 64, 100 
“Anti-DQhring”, 199 
Epistemology, space and time, 12 
Equilibrium, in aggregates, 155 
in living matter, 156 
Esdaile, J., 14 
Ethical principles, 97 ff. 

Facts, limitations of inductive 
method, 15 ff. 

Fakirs, 13 

Fanaticism, 47, 106 
Faraday, M., 11 
Farbman, M., 131 
Farming, 138. 

Fascism, 4 ff. 

Fathers and Sons (Turgenev), 103 
Fermat, P. de, 3, 4. 

Fermi, E., 83 
Fichte, J. G., 97 
Firth, R., 190 
Football, 116 

Formalization, “complete”, 176 
“theoretical”, 177 
Franck, J., 83 

Freedom and Reform (F. H. Knight), 
124 n. 


in science, 26 ff., 42, 69 ff. 
and public institutions, 30, 193 
of thought, 93, 193 
and totalitarianism, 33, 46 
destructive philosophies, 97 
“private” freedom, 157, 159 
Free society, 158 
and beliefs, 29 ff., 193 ff. 
permanent values, 46 ff. 
and State, 47 
Free traders, 122 
French Enlightenment, 95 
Fresnel, A. J., 11 
Freud, S., 56, 106 

Full Employment and Free Trade 
(M. Polanyi), 144 

Galileo, 11, 37 ff., 55 ff., 70, 78 
Gas pressure, 117 ff. 

Genetics, 59 ff. 

Germany, 6, 30, 38, 58 ff. 

Youth Movement, 104 
Germany's Revolution of Nihilism 
(H. Rauschning), 103 
Gestalt theory, 19 
Goebbels, 107 
Goldstine, H. H., 172 
Good society, 30, 32, 187, 198 

Hafstad, 51 
Hahn, O., 12 
Hall, M., 14 
Harvey, W., 55 

Hayek, F. A. v., 124, 179 n., 181 
Hegel, G. W. F., 97, 100 
Heiden, K., 104 
Heisenberg, W., 51, 83 
Helmholtz, H. v., 79 
Heredity, doctrines of, 61 ff. 
Himmler, H., 59 
Historical materialism, 78 
History of Experimental Psychology 
(E. G. Boring), 14 n. 

History, “written backwards”, 81 
and power politics, 100 
Hitler, A., 5, 80, 101, 199 
Hitler Speaks (H. Rauschning), 
59 n. 

Holbach, Baron d’, 95 
Hume, D., 15 



Hydrogen, 12 
Hypnotism, 13 ff., 24, 26 

Individualism, 158 
Inductive method, limitations of, 
15 ff. 


allocation of resources, 114, 118, 
145, 160 ff. 

managers in, 125, 136, 143 ff., 150, 

private and public ownership, 150, 

Inflation, 137 
in Russia, 186 

Intellectual activities, financing of, 

Intellectual order, systems of, 162 
Inventions, 68, 74 
financing of, 168 
Investors, 161 

James, W., 19 n. 

Jefferson, Th., 102 
Jewkes, J., 124, 137 
Jigsaw puzzle, 35 ff., 40 

and “relaxation method”, 175 
Joliot, J. F., 83 
Jones, J. W., 185 n., 197 n. 

Joule, J. P., 79 
Joyce, James, 139 
Judiciary, 162 

independence of, 41 
and scientists, 163 
Jung, C. G., 37 

Jurisdiction and the public interest, 

Kant, I., 100, 176 
Kapital (Marx), 96 
Kapitza, P., 84 ff. 

Karrer, P., 51 
Kepler, 11, 16, 37 
Kepler’s law, 70 ff. 

Kepner, 25 n. 

Knight, F. H., 123 
Knowledge, pursuit of, 6 
Koehler, W., 154 
Kolbanovsky, 65 n. 

Kritzmann, L., 128 
Kuhn, R., 51 

Laissez faire, 156, 169, 187 
Landowners, 145, 161 
Landsberg, 79 
Lange, O., 124, 181 n. 

Laplace, 127 
Larin, I., 128 n. 

Lashley, K., 25 n, 

Laski, H., 37 

Laue, M. v., 83 
Lauritsen, 51 
Law, common, 162 
private, 185 

and economic liberty, 186, 189 
Lawrence, E. O., 51 
Lawton, L., 128 n. 

Lecky, W. E. H., 96 

Lenin, 104, 107, 129, 132, 169, 199 

Leontief, W., 182 n. 

Lemer, A. P., 124 
Levy, H., 67 
Lewis, A. W., 188 n. 

Locke, J., 56, 94, 97 
Lorrimer, F., 129 n. 

Luther, M., 33 

Lysenko, T. D., 27 ff., 61 ff., 87 

Mach, E., 11 
Machine, 21, 156 
Magic, 13, 133, 137 
Manageability and social reform, 169 
polycentricity, 180 
and freedom, 186 ff. 
unmanageable tasks, 191 
Marbles, 155 
Margarine, 41 
Market, 154, 160, 187 
elimination of, 112, 123 ff., 169, 
188 ff. 

Marx, K., 28, 64, 96, 101, 108, 186 
Marxism, and science, 9, 27 ff., 30, 87 
class war, 29 
and nihilism, 105 
Materialism, 5 ff. 

Mathematical laws, 37, 71 
Maxwell, C., 4, 11, 71, 80 ff. 

Mayer, J. R., 79 
Mead, J. E., 124 
Mechanics, 70 ff. 

Mendel’s laws, 27, 38, 60 ff. 
Mesmer, F. A., 14 ff. 

Michelson, 12, 83 
Michurin, I. V., 27, 60 ff. 

Miljutin, W. P., 127 
Millikan, R. A., 82 
Milner, D. C., 12 
Milton, 88, 94 
Miracles, 13 
Mises, L. v., 122 
Money, 139 ff. 

circulation of, 146, 188 
“Monnet-plan”, 133 n. 

Montaigne, 8 
“Moral inversion”, 106 
Morgenstern, O., 183 n. 

Moscow trials, 193 
Mozart, W. A., 176 
Mussolini, B., 5, 101, 107 



Mutual adjustment, see spontaneous 

Narodniki (Populists), 103 

Nationalization, 150 

National prosperity, 137 

Nazis, 106 

Neon signs, 72 

N.E.P., 123 

Neumann, J. v., 172 

Newman, M. H. A., 173 

Newton, I., 4, 15, 37, 55 ff., 70, 78 

Nietzsche, Fr. W. v., 94, 104 

Nihilism, 103 ff., 108, 158. 

Oldham, J. H., 21 

Ordeal by Planning (J. Jewkes), 
124, 137 

Origin of Species (Darwin), 68 
Originality in science, 10, 39 ff., 50 

7 T and periods of gestation in animals, 
11, 16 ff. 

Pascal, B., 56 
Pasteur, L., 56 
Patent reform, 168 
Patent Reform (M. Polanyi), 168 n. 
Patriotism and fascism, 5 
Perception, 19 
extra-sensory, 15 
Perrin, F., 82 
Person, 21 
Persuasion, 165 
Philosophic doubt, 95, 97 ff. 
Philosophic substitutions 
pseudo, 98, 107 
real, 102 

Planck, M., 72, 82 

Planned Chaos (L. v. Mises), 124 n. 
Planning of science, 3, 69 ff., 76, 198 
illusion of, 133 ff. 
of production, 111 ff., 122, 126, 
134 ff. 

and “relaxation method”, 175, 181 
in Russia, 127, 186 
Plant-breeding, 59 ff. 

Plato, 78 

Political Economy and Capitalism 
(M. Dobb), 125 n. 

Political violence, 104 ff. 

Polycentric tasks 
formalizable, 171 
not formalizable, 174, 176 
theoretically formalizable, 177 
and economic optimum, 179 
unmanageable tasks, 191 
“Polycentricity”, 170 ff. 

Possessed (Dostoevski), 104 
Positivism, 8, 22 
“absolute detachment”, 25 

Positivism — continued 
and science, 9, 18 ff., 22 
and society, 27, 29 
“Post-critical” age, 109 
Prezent, I, I., 65 
Price controls, 137 
Primitive people and curses, 13 
and sorcery, 10 

Primitive Polynesian Economy 
(R. Firth), 190 n. 

Principia (Newton), 71 
Principles, intellectual and moral, 

Principles of Economic Planning 
(A. W. Lewis), 188 n. 

Principles of Literary Criticism 
(I. A. Richards), 9 n. 

Principles of Psychology (W. James), 
19 n. 

Production, 142 ff., 160 ff. 
costs, 143, 160 
targets, 136, 179, 196 
Profits, 147, 150, 163, 167 
and Socialism, 138 
Psychology, 30 
conscience in, 9 
and philosophy, 8 
Public liberty, 158, 192 
critique of, 194 
defence of, 198 
and law, 186, 189 
Public morality, 106 
Purposive action in animals, 23 ff., 

Pythagoras, 11, 37 

Radioactivity, 20 
Rayleigh, Lord, 12, 56 
Raman, C. V., 79 
Rationing, 140, 147 
Rauschning, H., 59 n., 103 
“Relaxation method”, 173 ff., 180, 

Religion and the Rise of Capitalism 
(R. H. Tawney), 165 
Religious wars, 94 
Richards, I. A., 9 n. 

Ritz, 72 

Road to Serfdom (Hayek), 124 
Robinson Crusoe, 177 
Robots, 140, 145, 178 
Romanticism, 32, 100, 102 
Rousseau, J. J., 71, 100 
Royal Society, 12, 15 ff. 

Rubber, 147 
Rubens, 83 
Runge, 72 

Russian revolution, 2, 127 
Rutherford, Lord, 51, 56, 83 



Saint Augustine, 93 
Sartre, J.-P., 25 
Saving, 150 
Scepticism, 5, 7 
and religion, 110 
and social conscience, 4 
Schrodinger, E., 51, 83 
Science, belief in, 10, 12 ff. 
planning, 3, 69 ff., 76 
and positivism, 9, 18 ff., 22, 28 
pure and applied, 3 ff., 43 ff., 
69 ff., 84 

in relation to the community, 7, 
55, 57 

in Russia, 83 

and social needs, 3, 7, 69 ff., 80 
Science , Faith and Society 
(M. Polanyi), 15 

Science for the Citizen (L. Hogben), 

Scientific beliefs, 15 ff., 22 ff., 26, 
30 ff. 

Scientific discovery, 10, 26, 34, 39, 

duplication, 51, 79 
Scientific opinion, 11 ff., 26, 37, 40 
and appointments, 27, 54, 90 
Marxism, 27 

and publications, 12, 27, 53 ff., 90, 

Scientific research, 50 ff., 57 
in industry, 77 

organization of, 34 ff., 88 ff., 154, 

and private income, 78 
pure and applied, 75 
taught by example, 52 
Self-co-ordination in science, 36 ff. 

see also spontaneous order. 
Shelling of peas, 34 
Sign, 21 
Smekal, A., 79 
Smith, Adam, 154, 170 
Social Functions of Science 
(J. D. Bernal), 68 

Social reforms, 149, 153, 169, 187 ff. 
Social Relations of Science 
(J. G. Crowther), 68 
Social services, 189, 191 
Socialism (L. v. Mises), 123 
Socialism, 122 
and capitalism, 165 
Sociology and philosophy, 8 ff. 
Sorcery, 9 ff., 27 
Socrates, 109 

Southwell, R. V., 172 n., 174 n. 
Soviet Communism (S. and B. Webb), 
131 n. 

Soviet Economic Development 
(M. Dobb), 132 

Soviet Russia 
civil code in, 185 
and Five-Year Plan, 123 ff., 130 
genetics, 38, 59 ff. 
planning of science, 83 
profits in, 138 

science in, 9, 26 ff., 29, 65 ff, 69 
“Span of control”, 112 ff. 

Spencer, H., 71 

“Spontaneous order” in society, 112, 
154 ff., 159, 186 

and corporate order, 114 ff., 
134 ff., 157, 184 
example of common law, 162 
example of market, 160 
and intellectual activities, 165 
when undesirable, 157 
Stalin, 129, 158 
Stimer, 104 

Successive approximation, 141, 145 
see also “relaxation method” 
Supply curves, 182 

Tawney, R. H., 165, 166 n. 
Telepathy, 24, 26 
The Acquisitive Society 
(R. H. Tawney), 166 
The October Revolution (Stalin), 
129 n. 

Theory of Elasticity 

(R. V. Southwell), 172 
Theory of Law (J. W. Jones), 185 n. 
Tito, 194 
Todd, A. R., 51 
Tolerance, 95 ff. 

Totalitarianism, 107 ff. 

and individual freedom, 33, 46, 

planned economy, 124, 189 
Toynbee, A. J., 37 
Tradition, discarding of, 8 
in the free society, 46, 166 
in science, 26, 39, 55 ff. 

Trotsky, L., 126, 129, 131 
Turgenev, 103 
Tuve, 51 

Unemployment, 149. 169 
effect of controls, 189 
“Uniqueness” of the individual, 32, 

of national destiny, 100 
Universe, picture of, 71 ff. 
Universities under totalitarianism, 6, 
engineering at, 75 
financing of, 41 ff., 77, 167 
Urey, H. C., 83 
Utilitarianism, 98 
Utility, 179 



Vavilov, N. I., 62 ff., 87 
Vavilov, Sergei, 61 
“Vegetative hybrids”, 60 ff. 
Vesalius 55 
Vitamins, 51 
Voltaire, 71, 95, 109 

Wagner, R., 101 
Walton, 51 

War and Peace (Tolstoy), 95 
Ward, W. S., 14 

Watson Watt, Sir R., 86 
Webb, S. and B., 131, 132 
Westphal, 51 
Williams, 51 
Wilson, 106 
Workers, 145, 161 

Young, Th., 11 

Zola, E., 45 

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